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Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Breast Cancer Disclosure Spotlights Early Detection Benefits

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepts Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for 'Veep' onstage during the 69th Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theatre on Sept. 17, 2017 in Los Angeles. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Saturday, 30 Sep 2017 09:52 PM

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ startling announcement that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer may spur others to schedule checkups, say experts. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the 56-year-old “Veep” star’s disclosure last week was a timely reminder that early detection is crucial.

“We love Julia Louis-Dreyfus and are inspired by her candor and courage to make her diagnosis public,” said Dr. Marissa C. Weiss, chief medical officer and founder of Breastcancer.org, the world’s most utilized resource for medical and personal information on breast health.

She tells Newsmax Health her announcement could lead to greater awareness of the benefits of early diagnosis of breast cancer, in the same way Angelina Jolie’s public disclosure about her breast cancer lead to increased gene-testing efforts.

“When Angelina Jolie opened up about her battle with breast cancer a few years ago, the incidence of genetic testing doubled,” Weiss notes. “When someone we know and love shares her personal experience, it becomes less scary for the rest of us and we are more likely to be pro-active in our personal healthcare.”

Louis-Dreyfus, who has won six consecutive Emmys for her role as former VP-turned president Selina Meyer on the hit HBO comedy made her announcement via Twitter, writing: “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today I’m the one.”

She added: "The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let's fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality."

Weiss says that while detection rates of breast cancer have increased over the past few decades, thanks to mammograms and self-exams, mortality rates have decreased.

In the 1960s for example, the 5-year survival rate for women with breast cancer was only 63 percent, but today it's 89 percent. When breast cancer is detected in its earliest stages, before it has spread, the 5-year survival rate jumps to 93 percent.

But those diagnosed later – with Stage IV cancer, the most advanced stage when the cancer has spread to the adjoining lymph nodes and other organs of the body – have only a 15 percent 5-year survival rate.

“Early detection is a huge factor in saving lives,” Weiss says. “We estimate that when breast cancer is found early, we can slash mortality rates by a third. Not only that, but early detection can also save the sufferer from aggressive treatment depending on the stage detected. She may not need chemotherapy or she may be able to save her breasts instead of having to undergo a mastectomy.”

Weiss says that about 25 percent of breast cancers are detected by self exams when a lump can actually be felt. Another 40 percent are found by mammography when the cancer is too small to be felt, and the remaining cancers are found during a physician’s exam.

“So obviously you want to detect cancer when it’s as small as possible so we advocate annual mammograms for women over the age of 40 until they are 70 and in good health,” she says. “There is no perfect way to detect breast cancer so I advise that women perform all three modes. Have their annual exam and mammogram and do a self test monthly, about two weeks after your period when breast tissue normalizes.”

Genetic testing for a gene mutation on the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene may be in order for those who have multiple relatives who have had breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, or melanoma. There is a decidedly hereditary factor in breast cancer risk.

“If you are an Ashkenazi Jew, you have a one in 40 chance of carrying the BRCA gene mutation which puts you at a much higher risk than the general population,” notes Weiss. “Men who have breast cancer or women who are under 50 are also candidates for genetic testing.”

If genetic testing reveals you do have a gene mutation, Weiss suggests having a mammogram alternating with an MRI every six months.

“The two tests give us very different and valuable information,” she says.

Other breast cancer risk factors include:

Just being a woman. This is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, there will be a whopping 252,720 cases of invasive breast cancer and 63,410 cases of non-invasive breast cancer diagnosed in 2017 in American women.

Age. As with other diseases, your risk of breast cancer goes up as you get older. About two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 and older.

Family history. Women with close relatives diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease. If you’ve had one first-degree female relative such as a sister, mother, or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is doubled.

Radiation to the chest before age 30. If you’ve had radiation to the chest to treat another cancer such as Hodgkin’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, you have a higher than average risk of breast cancer.

Being overweight. Overweight and obese women have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight also can increase the risk of recurrence in women who have had the disease.

Unhealthy habits. Drinking alcohol, lack of exercise, and smoking have been linked to a higher number of breast cancer cases.

Vitamin D deficiency. Recent research shows that women with low levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of breast cancer. Vitamin D may play a role in controlling normal breast cell growth and may be able to stop breast cancer cells from growing.

Eating bad food. Diet is thought to be at least partially responsible for about 30-40 percent of all cancers. While no food or diet can prevent you from getting breast cancer, some foods can boost your immune system making it the healthiest it can be and minimize your risk of breast cancer.

Dr. Herman Kattlove, a Los Angeles-based oncology professor and former spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, tells Newsmax Health healthy lifestyles are critical to combatting breast cancer, even with genetic or other risks.

“While I still believe that early detection by mammography is better than waiting until it becomes apparent with a physician’s exam, the best way to lower your risk of breast cancer is to pursue a healthy lifestyle,” Kattlove says.

© 2017 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

 
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Julia Louis-Dreyfus' announcement that she is battling breast cancer may spur others to schedule checkups, say experts. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the 56-year-old "Veep" star's disclosure last week was a timely reminder that early detection saves lives.
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Saturday, 30 Sep 2017 09:52 PM
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