News of the death of actress, Kelly Preston from breast cancer at 57 left fans reeling. Preston was only 57 when she succumbed to the disease on Sunday. She and her husband, John Travolta, had kept her diagnosis and breast-cancer battle private.
Her death puts the spotlight on breast cancer which, while often curable, can also be ruthless — leaving women everywhere considering their risk.Read More
“It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you that my beautiful wife Kelly has lost her two-year battle with breast cancer,” Travolta, 66, revealed an emotional post on Instagram, Sunday night. The couple has two surviving children, Ella, 20 and Benjamin, 9. Their son, Jett, who had autism, died of a seizure in 2009. On May 10, Travolta called Preston, “the best mother to our kids!” in his sweet Mother’s Day post (below).
In Travolta’s Easter post, Preston appears to be wearing a wig, but the family gave no indication of her diagnosis or treatment. Her death is a sobering reminder that, despite the increase in fundraising and awareness of the disease over the past twenty years, the war on breast cancer has yet to be won.
Delayed Mammogram? Re-Schedule Now
The best protection for women is regular screening to improve the odds of detecting breast cancer early, when treatment odds are favorable. If you’ve put off a mammogram due to the coronavirus outbreak, now is the time to re-schedule.
To avoid further delays, those with known risk factors — for any cancer — should “ask for priority scheduling” when booking screenings, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society, told SurvivorNet in late May.
Current Mammogram Guidelines
The American Cancer Society gives women with no other risk factors or symptoms to begin screening mammograms between ages 40 and 44. Women with known risk factors, like a family history of breast cancer, may begin as early as age 30 — younger if they are experiencing symptoms.
“If you haven’t gone through menopause yet, I think it’s very important that you have a mammogram every year,” Dr. Lehman told SurvivorNet. “We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving.”
Annual mammograms should continue through age 54. At 55, a woman may opt to screen every other year or continue annual mammograms.
5 Tips On Staying Safe While Getting A Mammogram
- Try to book appointments early in the morning when people are working to avoid crowds
- Wear a mask and gloves
- Wash hands once entering and leaving the hospital — carry hand sanitizer
- Remain six feet distance from other patients
- Ask hospital staff how often they are sanitizing equipment and keeping the facility safe
“Centers offering screening mammography should continue to be vigilant to reduce risk of COVID-19 spread, both for the best interests of our patients as well as our hospital health care workers,” Dr. Lehman says.
“At Mass General, we are continuing to practice best methods for social distancing, plastic shields, face masks, regular cleaning of equipment and rooms, frequent hand sanitization, reduced contacts between patients and staff, and restricted use of waiting rooms as we welcome our patients back for their health care needs,” says Dr. Lehman.
Alcohol, Exercise, and Weight
In addition, women can take positive steps– such as reducing alcohol intake, engaging in regular exercise, and shedding excess pounds — that have been found to measurably reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
Here, SurvivorNet rounds up the latest research and advice on breast cancer risk-reduction and screening.
Dr. Elizabeth Comen explains the link between alcohol and breast cancer risk.
A study reported by the National Cancer Institute concluded that women who drank more than 45 grams of alcohol per day (that’s about three drinks) had one and a half times more risk of developing breast cancer than non-drinkers.
Every drink you take increases that risk, according to Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a breast oncologist at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York. Her advice: If you aren’t a drinker, don’t start. If you are, try to drink less. And if you’re binge-drinking – stop.
Even Small Weight-Loss Reduces Risk
For women over 50, a 2019 study found that even modest amounts of weight loss — as little as 4.5 pounds — can decrease the risk of breast cancer. “This study gives us concrete numbers that correlate weight-loss and risk reduction,” Dr. Sarah P. Cate, assistant professor of surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told SurvivorNet.
“We know that fat cells make estrogen which fuels most breast cancers after menopause,” says Dr. Cate. “Now, the whole concept of weight loss is much easier to discuss with patients.”
Women who were overweight and lost at least 20 pounds during this time saw the most dramatic results, with a 25% reduced risk of developing breast cancer.
Exercise Reduces Risk, Supports Treatment
It’s probably no surprise that regular exercise — now defined as — can reduce your risk of breast cancer by 12 percent. But exercise is also beneficial for those undergoing treatment. While it may seem counter-intuitive to exercise during chemotherapy or radiation treatment, physical activity — no matter how hard it seems at the time — does help alleviate side-effects.
Advances In Treatment: What’s New?
For women with early-stage breast cancer, an encouraging new study found that the new drug, Verzenio, a CDK4/CDK6 inhibitor, helps slow down cancer in women with HR+, HER2- metastatic breast cancer and helps prevent a recurrence.
Dr. Elizabeth Comen explains how CDK4/CDK6 inhibitors help fight metastatic breast cancer
“This is an important study because it showed that women with early breast cancer who are at significantly high risk for metastasis had a benefit, meaning improvement in invasive disease-free survival,” says Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “We are always looking for ways to improve outcomes for early-stage breast cancer patients and it means that we may be adding Verzenio to our arsenal.”
Immunotherapy For Breast Cancer
Immunotherapy has been a game-changing treatment option when it comes to treating several cancers. But until recently, researchers hadn’t had much success using immunotherapy to fight breast cancer. That’s changing now. The IMpassion130 trial showed for the first time that a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy had a significant effect in treating metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer is an extremely dangerous form of the disease, so this discovery is a really big deal.
Dr. Sylvia Adams, a Medical Oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center on the use of immunotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer.
“The question now becomes, is it only triple-negative breast cancer that can benefit from immunotherapy, or are there other subtypes as well?” says Dr. Sylvia Adams, a Medical Oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center.
“If a tumor has the PD-L1 protein in it, that means there’s already an inflammatory response, that the patient’s immune system already recognized the tumor and was starting to work against it,” says Dr. Adams. “The benefit of identifying such a strong biomarker in the triple-negative subset will allow us to actually test for the presence and responsiveness to immunotherapy in other subtypes of breast cancer.”