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U.S. breast cancer patients with a low yearly income are less likely to survive their disease, according to a new study by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The study, which appears in the journal BioMed Central Cancer, examined the records of 112,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. between 1998 and 2002, says the AHN reporter. Follow-up examinations in 2005 revealed to researchers a strong link between socioeconomic status and survival of the disease.
One researcher, Dr Xue Qin Yu, told the news source that women in the poorest areas of the country had the lowest percentage of reported early stage cancer, but the highest percentage of advanced state breast cancer at the time of their diagnoses. Of this group, African American women run the highest risk of mortality.
The ACS research team hypothesized that lack of access to lab tests and technology used for breast cancer screening in these areas impedes early detection and lowers survival rates. They have recommended that intervention programs designed to increase breast cancer screenings and insurance coverage for poorer patients could close the socioeconomic gap.
According to the American Cancer Society, during the 1980s, breast cancer death rates for white and African women were about the same, but from 2001 to 2005, African American women had a 37 percent higher death rate than white women.
Knowing the risk factors
As doctors attempt to bridge the socioeconomic and race gaps, and generally strive to bring greater care and more efficient breast cancer testing to patients in the U.S., they emphasize recognizing risk factors that may foster development of the disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, some factors, like age, cannot be changed but should be recognized as an element for increased risk. According to studies, about 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45-years-old, and about 2 out of 3 invasive cases are found in women age 55 or older.
Research from the National Cancer Institute has furthermore shown that women who have mutations to their BRCA, or tumor suppressor genes, are at a much higher risk of developing breast cancer. Most commonly, these mutations are inherited.
While gender, age, DNA and family history play important roles in breast cancer development, the stimulus in some cases is purely environmental.
Though Dr. Ann Aschengrau, an epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health, said she would expect two male breast cancer cases in a population of 100,000 people, one marine says at least 39 other men that lived on a common U.S. military base developed male breast cancer. Some doctors believe a contaminated water source to be the cause of the statistical anomaly.
Treatment options in development
As research on breast cancer prevention and detection collects, many scientists are experimenting with new detection and treatment options.
One research team at the University of Cambridge in England has focused on promoting the early detection of breast cancer by identifying genetic material that may indicate its development. They named NRG1 (neuregulin-1) as the genetic material located on chromosome 8, that, when functioning properly, plays a role in suppressing the growth of breast cancer.
The scientists stress that determining the biological causes of cancers allows doctors to focus on prevention as a way to curb mortality rates.
While 1 in 4 women with early stage breast cancer still prefer mastectomies, new testing of drug therapy has proven effective in localizing the disease. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute say a drug, vorinostat, may be able to keep breast cancer from producing harmful metastases in the brain.
The National Institutes of Health determined that about 20 percent of breast cancer patients diagnosed with brain metastases survive past one year.
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