Update: Breast cancer
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Update: Breast cancer

Recent findings show that being active may lower your risk and help women who are considering hormone replacement.

This month marks the 16th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and this year, there is good news to report: Breast cancer deaths are declining.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that from 1995 to 1998, deaths from breast cancer fell 3.4 percent. Much of the credit belongs to advances in chemotherapy and the drug tamoxifen, which is taken by about 1 million women around the world. Breast cancer is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of death among women.

However, the number of new cases of breast cancer actually increased about 1.2 percent since 1992. Most experts attribute that number to greater early detection and mammograms.

One way to fight this disease is to be aware of your odds. Everyone has heard by now that one in eight women in the United States will get breast cancer in her lifetime, but the chances increase with age. For instance, from age 30 to 40, 1 out of 257 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer; from age 40 to 50, 1 out of 67; and from 50 to 60, 1 out of 36 women will get breast cancer. This year alone, more than 190,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease.

There is an incredible amount of research being conducted on breast cancer each year and the outlook for a cure is optimistic. To help keep you informed, here is a summary of some of the latest studies that have made the news.

Active women have lower breast cancer risk

Findings: There have been several studies in this area and most have shown that the more you do, the less likely you are to get breast cancer. A Canadian study published this month found that women who stay active on the job and do housework have a lower risk of breast cancer. Scientists at the Alberta Cancer Board in Calgary studied data on 1,233 women with breast cancer and compared them to a similar-sized group of healthy women.

Women who put in more than 43 hours a week of physical activity over their lifetime had a 31 percent lower risk of breast cancer than did the women who were active 29 hours or less each week.

What you need to know: While there are still a lot of questions to be answered, exercise seems to have a protective effect against breast cancer. And since it also decreases your chances of heart disease, why not do it? Try and get 30 minutes or more of exercise a day and if you already do, increase it by 15 minutes.

Breast cancer deaths not tied to hormone replacement

Findings: While it's known that women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are at increased risk of developing breast cancer, they are not more likely to die from it. In other words, HRT does not adversely affect a woman's survival rate.

Researchers at the University Hospital South Manchester in England studied 589 breast cancer patients. After 10 years, 91 percent of women who had used HRT were still alive compared with 88 percent of those who had never taken HRT.

What you need to know: If you are a candidate for HRT, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Some studies have shown that long-term HRT use may further increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Every woman should look at her own family history and make an informed decision.

Taking hormones increases breast density

Findings: Synthetic hormones can make a woman's breasts dense and it can be tougher for doctors to detect cancer during a mammogram. A study published this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the link between breast density and supplemental hormones was strongest among woman age 70 and older. The changes in density disappeared when women stopped taking the hormones.

What you need to know: When you have a mammogram, be sure to tell your doctor or the person taking your medical history that you take hormone replacement. Also, if you are older, get a mammogram and regularly make use of other methods of detecting breast cancer.

Thought of the month

More than 180,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Cancer of the breast is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, accounting for 30 percent of all cancers in women. --by Martha Miller