Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Six amazing discoveries in 2014

We have heard how women are encouraged to wear pink in the month of October every year in support of Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. The disease has become a major problem in many parts of the world including India.

By Salome Phelamei | Updated: Oct 10, 2014, 23:21 PM IST

Salome Phelamei

We have heard how women are encouraged to wear pink in the month of October every year in support of Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. The disease has become a major problem in many parts of the world including India.

In India, the scenario has worsened as a new study revealed that 1 in 28 women develop the disease in their lifetime, but is higher in urban areas (1in 22). And unlike in the West where women aged 53-57 years are more prone to breast cancer, the average age of the high risk group in India is 43-46 years.

In the US, it's estimated that 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetimes and about 40,000 American women are likely to die from the disease this year.

Whereas in the UK, breast cancer is still the most common form of cancer with one in eight women being diagnosed with the disease at some point in her life.

It's also heart-rending to know that the disease has not spared even the much younger women group.

However, research has found that the disease can be controlled or avoided through healthier lifestyle such as cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, etc.

Throughout the years, there have been many findings that researchers think may help in combating the deadly disease. Below are some of the amazing discoveries made this year.

Increase in skirt size: A study has revealed that overall weight gain during adulthood, particularly thickening of the waist area elevates the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer by 33 percent.

The study was based on 92,834 women aged over 50 years who were enrolled in the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) between 2005 and July 2010 and who had gone through the menopause. Upon analyzing, researchers found that going up one skirt size every 10 years was associated with a 33 percent greater risk of breast cancer, while going up two skirt sizes in the same period was linked to a 77 percent greater risk.

Electronic skin: Scientists have developed a new hi-tech 'electronic skin' that can detect small breast lumps better than self breast examinations. The new technology, which researchers said could also be used to screen patients for early signs of melanoma and other cancers.

Simple blood test: A simple blood test is currently being developed that could help predict the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer by testing for a certain epigenetic signature, even in the absence of a high-risk BRCA1 gene mutation.

“We identified an epigenetic signature in women with a mutated BRCA1 gene that was linked to increased cancer risk and lower survival rates,” said lead researcher Professor Martin Widschwendter, from University College London.

“Surprisingly, we found the same signature in large cohorts of women without the BRCA1 mutation and it was able to predict breast cancer risk several years before diagnosis,” he added.

Birth control pills: A new study found that women who had recently used contraceptive pills with high-dose estrogen had a 50 percent higher risk for breast cancer than women who had never taken or stopped taking birth control pills. The study, which was published in the journal Cancer Research, also found that low-estrogen pills did not increase the risk.

Stopping the spread: Researchers have for the first time shown that the molecule αvβ6 (alpha v beta 6) plays an important role in helping breast cancer cells to grow and spread.

The study, funded by Breast Cancer Campaign and the Medical Research Council (MRC), also found that the molecule is a possible new target for treating one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer.

Breast cancer vaccine: Australian scientists have developed a vaccine that can stop breast cancer returning and could be available in the market in the next five to ten years.

The scientists who developed the vaccine carried out trials in 31 women. The results showed the vaccine slashes the rate of breast cancer returning from 60 to just 12 per cent over a 15-year period.

Burnet Institute Professor Ian McKenzie, one of the scientists behind the breakthrough, hopes that one day every woman will get the vaccine to prevent the disease.