Key Facts About Breast Cancer

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Improving outcomes through knowledge of early detection and advanced treatment options.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), with about 1 in 8 developing the disease in her lifetime. Survival rates improve when the cancer is detected early.

Meera Yogarajah, MD
Meera Yogarajah, MD

“Even in advanced stages of breast cancer, there are new, novel therapies available that can prolong life,” says Meera Yogarajah, MD, medical oncologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group.

To help mark October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Yogarajah explains more about this common but treatable disease.

What’s the most important thing to know about breast cancer?

Age-appropriate screening promotes early diagnosis and early intervention, which leads to improved chances of survival and overall better outcomes. Risk increases with age, so the benefits of screening increase with age as well. The American Cancer Society suggests women have the option to start screening annually at age 40, which should be individualized based on patient preferences after discussion of potential risks and benefits. Women ages 45 to 54 should have a mammogram every year; those 55 and older can continue yearly screening or switch to every other year if warranted. Women at especially high risk for breast cancer due to factors such as family or personal history should begin regular screening at an earlier age.

What tends to surprise people about breast cancer?

A higher body mass index, or BMI, is associated with higher risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Weight is a modifiable risk factor, meaning it’s something we have some control over. So paying attention to weight and aspects of lifestyle such as eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity can reduce the risk of breast cancer. That’s something not everyone is aware of.

What are treatment options if you’re diagnosed?

Treatment generally involves a multidisciplinary approach that may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and other therapeutics. Treatment plans are highly individualized and tailored to you depending on factors such as the subtype of cancer you have. Examples include whether the cancer is hormone receptor positive, HER2 positive or triple negative. These subtypes reflect cancer’s susceptibility to specific treatments. Determining your cancer profile helps guide you and your oncologist toward the most effective therapy.

How has treatment for breast cancer changed?

Treatments are increasingly focused on specific targets such as hormones and proteins that, if blocked or controlled, can stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. In hormone receptor positive early-stage breast cancer, a genomic test called the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score is predictive of chemotherapy benefits and recurrences. Based on the scores, not everyone who needed chemotherapy in the past needs it today, and research continues to advance.

Patients at RWJUH Hamilton, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—have access to clinical trials for both early- and late-stage cancers. Your provider can help evaluate whether you’re a candidate for this treatment option.

To schedule an appointment with one of New Jersey’s best breast cancer specialists call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.