Sun Exposure Continues for Some Long-Term Melanoma Survivors
A survey of more than 1,400 adults who had taken part in the Skin Health Study found
that long-term melanoma survivors were less likely to report getting sunburned or using
indoor tanning devices than those who had not had skin cancer. However, 10 percent of the
melanoma survivors said they intentionally went into the sun to tan and 20 percent reported
sunburns. The researchers concluded that melanoma survivors need more education about
reducing sun exposure.
LEARN MORE IN THE APRIL 2017 CANCER EPIDEMIOLOGY, BIOMARKERS & PREVENTION.
Doctors use the American College of
Radiology’s Breast Imaging Reporting and
Data System to measure breast density on a
mammogram, classifying women’s breasts
into one of four categories: A through D.
Women with the lowest breast density,
category A, have breasts composed almost
entirely of fat. Women with the highest
breast density, category D, have extremely
dense breasts made up primarily of glandular and fibrous tissue.
In a study published online Feb. 2, 2017,
in JAMA Oncology, a research team led
by Karla Kerlikowske, a breast cancer
researcher at the University of California,
San Francisco, and primary care physi-
cian at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs
Medical Center, analyzed risk factor
data on more than 18,000 breast cancer
patients and 184,000 women without
breast cancer collected through the
Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium,
a network of mammography registries.
The study found that in both pre- and
postmenopausal women, breast density
was a more prevalent and significant risk
factor than other common risk factors.
Kerlikowske says she was surprised to
find breast density is a more prevalent
and strong risk factor than other factors
that tend to get much more attention.
“We expected breast density to be
important—and it is,” Kerlikowske says.
“But what was surprising was some of
the more traditional factors like [having
a] first-degree relative with breast
cancer or history of benign biopsy—
those other ones people tend to think
are most important—don’t contribute
near as much as breast density.”
Typically, women’s breasts become less
dense as they get older. Women who have
more children also tend to have less dense
breasts. The drug tamoxifen can be used
to reduce breast cancer risk in high-risk
women. But having dense breasts alone
is not reason enough to take the drug,
because of its side effects.
Dense breast tissue appears white on a
mammogram. This can make it more difficult for radiologists to see tumors, which
also look white on a mammogram.
In many states, radiologists are now
required to inform women about their breast
density. Even so, “high breast density alone
is very common and should not be cause
for alarm,” says Holly Pederson, a medical
breast specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
There are no definitive recommendations
on what additional screening tests a woman
with dense breasts should have. Pederson
says three-dimensional breast imaging may
find tumors that mammograms miss in
women with dense breast tissue.
Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the
American Cancer Society, notes that while
it’s clear “mammography is a suboptimal
test” for women with dense breasts, it’s
not clear that MRI or ultrasound is much
better. “We need [to find] a better test,”
he says. —KENDALL K. MORGAN
Age, family history and obesity can all influence a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. But there is another risk factor that can be overlooked: breast density.
Breast Density Matters
THE RISK FACTOR THAT MAY BE OVERLOOKED
SCIENTISTS TAKE A STAND
Thousands of attendees who gathered at the Opening Ceremony of the American Association
for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2017 sent a message on April 2 that cuts
proposed by the Trump administration to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget would
be devastating to cancer research, stall progress and ultimately harm cancer patients. The
Annual Meeting was held in Washington, D.C., April 1-5. (The AACR publishes Cancer Today.)
On May 1, Congress passed a bill with a $2 billion NIH spending increase for fiscal year 2017.
Later that month, the administration revealed that its proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 would
reduce NIH funding by more than 20 percent. Go to
AACR.org and search for "Legislative Action
Center" to learn how to let your elected representatives know your position on NIH funding.
©2017 AACR/ALAN LESSIG