Tuesday November 19, 2019

Pregnancy seems Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors: Study

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breast cancer
FILE - A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice, July 26, 2012. VOA
  • The study, done in Europe, is the largest so far on women whose cancers were fueled by hormones
  • About 11 percent of new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are in women under 45
  • The research involved more than 1,200 breast cancer survivors

A study gives reassuring news for breast cancer survivors who want to have children. Those who later became pregnant were no more likely to have their cancer come back than those who did not have a baby.

It’s a big issue — the average age of moms has been rising in the United States, and more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer in their childbearing years. About 11 percent of new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are in women under 45.

The study, done in Europe, is the largest so far on women whose cancers were fueled by hormones, which rise in pregnancy and, theoretically, might spur a recurrence.

“Having a family is one of the most important achievements in a person’s life,” said study leader Dr. Matteo Lambertini of the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, Belgium. These results show that “pregnancy after breast cancer can be considered safe.”

The research involved more than 1,200 breast cancer survivors. More than half had tumors whose growth was fueled by estrogen. After treatment, 333 became pregnant, about two and a half years after their cancer diagnosis, on average. Researchers compared them to 874 other survivors, matched for tumor type and other things, who did not.

More than 12 years after conception, recurrence rates were similar in both groups. Abortion had no impact on the rates either.

There was information on breast-feeding for 64 of the moms, with 25 reporting doing so successfully, suggesting it’s possible for some women even after breast surgery.

The results show “fairly convincingly” that women don’t have to worry, said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The group featured the study at its annual conference that ended Tuesday in Chicago.

A big study under way in the U.S. and other countries is taking this research one step further, testing whether it’s safe for breast cancer survivors who want to get pregnant to temporarily suspend taking the hormone-blocking drugs like tamoxifen usually recommended for five years after initial treatment.

If they wait until all five years are past, they might be too old to have a baby, said Dr. Ann Partridge, who specializes in treating young women with breast cancer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She is helping enroll patients in the study, called POSITIVE.

Participants must have used the hormone blockers for at least 18 months before stopping, and can suspend treatment for up to two years to enable pregnancy, delivery and breast-feeding.

Sarah Murray of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is the first U.S. woman in the study to have had a baby. She was 29 and planning her wedding when her breast cancer was found in 2013.

“We had just set the date when I got diagnosed, the same week. So obviously, children was on our minds,” she said.

Worries about triggering a recurrence if she got pregnant “did weigh on me quite a bit,” she said, but “I didn’t want the fear to have power over a decision that would bring so much joy.”

Her son, Owen, was born in December. (VOA)

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Health System Failure for Cancer Patients in Venezuela

Last year, about 4,700 women in Venezuela became ill with breast cancer, according to the Anticancer Society of Venezuela

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Cancer
Cancer Patients are not just afraid of the disease itself, but they also fear dying because they cannot find or afford the necessary treatment. Pixabay

A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying enough at any time. But for 49-year-old Grecia Solis, the arduous choices faced by all cancer patients were complicated by the crippling decline of Venezuela’s public health facilities.

After her diagnosis two years ago, doctors recommended surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Before the oil-producing nation’s steep economic decline of recent years, those services would have been available free of charge or for a nominal fee at a state-run public hospital.

But trained staff, medicines and equipment are in such short supply at those facilities today that a public hospital was no longer an option. Instead, Solis was forced to borrow money from family and friends to pay for her operation at a privately run, for-profit clinic.

Her operation, performed in May 2018, cost her $500, a modest amount by U.S. standards, but a huge sum in Venezuela where hyperinflation has ravaged most people’s savings. With additional financial help from a sister in Ecuador, Solis was able to pay for the recommended eight sessions of chemotherapy, which were completed in December.

Solis’ story is a common one among cancer patients in Venezuela. Patients are not just afraid of the disease itself, but they also fear dying because they cannot find or afford the necessary treatment.

Last year, about 4,700 women in Venezuela became ill with breast cancer, according to the Anticancer Society of Venezuela, although the nation’s health ministry has not produced official figures since 2012. The society reported 2,300 women died last year from the disease, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among Venezuelan women.

Cancer
A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying enough at any time. Pixabay

Senos Ayuda, an NGO that supports breast cancer patients, estimates the number of patients are even higher, at almost 7,000 a year. And it stresses that treatment, medicine and doctors are becoming ever less accessible with the deepening of the nation’s humanitarian emergency.

The problem is part of a wider crisis in public health facilities. According to several Venezuelan doctors’ organizations, 73% of the country’s operating rooms are out of service or lack supplies and have unsanitary conditions.

A survey conducted by the organization Doctors for Health indicated that 90% of radiotherapy facilities are inoperative, 94% of health centers cannot take an X-ray, and 88% of hospitals have insufficient supplies and medicines. The Anticancer Society of Venezuela has reported that 80% of public radiotherapy equipment has been inoperative in the last year.

Solis says she is frustrated the government of President Nicolas Maduro does not accept that Venezuela is in a humanitarian crisis and has done little to address the problem, leading to avoidable cancer deaths.

Cancer
Since 2018, 400,700 women in Venezuela have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer. According to the Anti-Cancer Society in Venezuela, getting an accurate numbers of patients is unlikely. Since 2012, the Ministry of Health does not offer official figures. VOA

Another patient, 58-year-old Algeria Dias, was diagnosed with a breast tumor in August 2017. She was able to afford treatment with the help of family, donations, some government help and the sale of the family car, but she says she now she spends every day “going from clinic to clinic, public and private, and see if they have the space or equipment I need to monitor my disease.”

For her part, Solis says she is running out time. She has until December to raise $5,000 to pay for more than 30 additional radiotherapy sessions to prevent the likely return of her cancer.

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“Cancer does not wait. Cancer does not warn and when you have it, it overtakes you. It hurts having the uncertainty of not knowing if you can say, “I am a cancer survivor,” she said. (VOA)