TODAY | October 08, 2009
>>> so much. this morning on "today's daily dose," breast cancer . it is breast cancer awareness month, making it a perfect time to ask, where do we stand in the fight against the disease that kills more than 40,000 women in america every year? nbc's dr. nancy snyderman is nbc's chief medical editor. hey, nancy , good morning.
>> hey, ann.
>> listen, the really cool thing is yesterday some news broke that there had been what was described as a breakthrough by canada researchers who said they found the first evidence that cancer cells genetically mutate as the disease progresses --
>> yeah. this is going to be in "nature" magazine. this is considered a watershed event in that they were able to look at the mutations of cancer cells in a woman with breast cancer . they did it in a very short period of time. billions of markers. and they basically said we now know that cancer cells themselves mutate, which sort of turns the on switch into dividing rapidly. what it will mean for every woman with breast cancer we're going to have to wait to see, but the fact that they can genetically decode this breast cancer in a short period of time and see how the mutations work, huge step forward for scientists.
>> maybe they can help the doctors know better if they can get this down and figure this out, what specific treatment should happen at what point in the mutation.
>> we have to figure out, are breast cancers the same or dissimilar? and we think they're dissimilar, but the concern is we don't even know what really causes breast cancer yet. so, every scientific stride that we take like this opens up one more door.
>> where are we in the scientific strides?
>> well, i think that's a real concern right now. we market brilliantly. the pinking of america. i think we are more aware of breast cancer than ever before, but have those dollars that everyone has donated really made a difference in a scientific breakthrough? you'll find scientists that say, you know, not so much. my bias is, we have to stop funding the same old research, the same old chemotherapy, the same old radiation. let's take young scientists who are willing to turn things upside down and fund them and say just go. that's where the money should go.
>> all right. you heard it here. we've got an e-mail question from ann, and the question is -- "my first mastectomy was 1994 , before menopause. my second, 2009 , post-menopause. no one is able to tell me what to do now that i do not have breasts to example. what do i do to look for it now?"
>> it's a concern because you sort of think that you're on watch all the time, and if you don't have breast tissue left for a mammography, you think, well, there's nothing. but in fact, when your breasts are removed, about 5% of breast tissue is still there. so, the chance of getting a tumor, although very, very, very, very small, is still possible. so, the best thing for her to do is sort of know what her new body looks like, and as soon as that scar is healed, know what lumps and bumps are normal, what's scar tissue , what's an old suture, and if there's a new lump or bump, have your doctor take a look at it.
>> but there aren't mammograms for her --
>> no, because there's no breast tissue left, so that's when you really have to know what your body feels like.
>> megan from oklahoma city , apparently out of the crowd, has a question. hey, megan , what's your question?
>> good morning, dr. nancy . my question is, can women in their early to mid-20s be diagnosed with breast cancer ?
>> megan , they can be diagnosed, but you have to remember, it's very rare. we always hear one in eight or one in nine, and that's really for women over their entire lifespan. so, for a woman your age, it's 1 in over 2,000. but by the time a woman gets into her 60s, it's 1 in 200. age remains the number one risk factor . so, for you, know what your body feels like, but no reason to rush into screening, unless for some crazy reason you have a strong family history . but if you don't, no, no reason for you to worry yet.
>> thank you.
>> thank you so much, megan . you talk about the strong family history . really, though, only 5% to 10% -- isn't that right -- of breast cancers are thought to have a genetic link?
>> that's right. so know your body, but no way should a 28-year-old who is otherwise healthy with no risk factors start to think about mammography. that's for later in life.
>> okay. we have a question from alice in webb city , missouri. she's on the phone. good morning, alice . what's your question?
>> caller: good morning, dr. nancy .
>> good morning.
>> caller: my question is last year i found a lump in my breast, a rather large one, and i went to the doctor, had it checked out, and it turns out that i had fibrocystic breast tissue . i'm only 35 years old. i had no idea what this was. my doctors and everybody were like, not a big deal , everything is fine. apparently, fibrocystic breast tissue is pretty common --
>> it is common, and you should know that just because you have lumpy breasts, fibrocystic disease , does not mean it goes on to breast cancer . in fact, there is no correlation. these are the benign lumps women get. and a lot of times women will say not only are my breasts lumpy, but they hurt. and around the time of a woman's period, they can get lumpier, but here's the caveat -- you have to really know your body, because if you feel a new lump, the burden will be on you and your physician to perhaps biopsy it. and a lot of times, women will say, i've been through so many biopsies, they're always benign. the one thing that can make lumpy breasts sometimes worse is caffeine. so --
>> i heard that.
>> so, back off the caffeine and see if that doesn't make you feel a little better, but just know that fibrocystic disease is not a precursor to cancer.
>> good news for you, alice . thank you so much for your question. so, bottom line is, we should be paying more attention and we should think about ways of researching things that are different, maybe what we're currently researching, and we should know our risks and take --
>> it's imprecise. medicine and science is imprecise. what we know is where we're throwing the dart on the dart board today. so, know the information, know your body, access screening prudently so you don't scare yourself.
>> yes, doctor.