Breast Cancer Update/Fall 2014
BY DIANE ISSENBERG, Health & Wellness Team Leader
"Share often and much—to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded." These words of poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson fittingly describe Hadassah Medical Organization, its physicians, researchers, nurses and technicians. Through their work, they have alleviated suffering and provided quality medical care and treatment.
This past year, Hadassah's Department of Integrative Medicine and Department of Oncology with Israel's Cancer Association created a special program for treatment and support of women with breast cancer. Following the patient's treatment, this new program, the brainchild of Hadassah, aims to improve their quality of life. It will specifically treat side effects caused by chemotherapy. The program is free of charge for participants and is conducted within the framework of a unique clinical trial, approved by Hadassah's Helsinki Committee.
The New York Times reported the findings of a recent study conducted by Israeli and United States researchers that women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, who tested positive for cancer-causing genetic mutations during random screenings, have high rates of breast and ovarian cancer, even when they have no family history of the disease. The study's authors recommended routine screening of all women of Ashkenazi backgrounds for harmful mutations in the genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2. However, the United States Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommends against routine genetic counseling or BRCA testing for women whose family history does not indicate a risk of harmful mutations. The deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said that the study was "thought provoking" but that routine screening for BRCA mutations had "not been on the table" in the U.S. and would have to be discussed extensively and in great detail.
Leading oncologist Prof. Tamar Peretz, Interim Director General of Hadassah Medical Organization and Director of Hadassah's Sharett Institute of Oncology in Israel, rejects universal testing. "Jewish women without a family history of breast and ovarian cancer should not feel pressured to undergo the BRCA test for breast and ovarian cancer. The implications of the BRCA test are complex….Prophylactic removal of a woman's ovaries and breasts can have a devastating impact on her life. We have not yet determined that the psychological burden of knowing outweighs the risk of discovering this gene later."
According to the American Cancer Society, the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer during her life is about 1 in 8. The good news, breast cancer death rates have been going down. This is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatment. Currently, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.