10/17/2019 From Awareness to Action: October Focuses on Breast Cancer

Allison Walsh

From Awareness to Action: October Focuses on Breast Cancer

It’s hard to miss: swag in offices, sporting events,  schools  –even the white house-is awash in pink to honor National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Today, thinking pink is a booming industry, with some reports claiming $6B is collected annually in support of the cause. Critics of the “think pink” movement worry that despite all this money raised, not enough progress has been made.1

Now that we’ve made enviable strides in awareness, it’s time to move on to action and work for more to be done for breast cancer research, patient support, caregiver support and community support.2 Here’s a look at what’s happening in breast cancer research.

Understanding the cause

No one fully understands the exact cause of breast cancer, but researchers continue to look at ways women can improve their chances of never getting it.3 Lifestyle is used to assess patients’ risk, and plays an important role in preventing all cancers.

Diet, exercise, weight loss and weight gain are all important factors currently being studied. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Dietary Modification (DM) clinical trial findings were released this past summer and showed that eating a low fat diet equated to a 21% risk of dying from breast cancer in post- menopausal woman.4

Researchers are also taking a closer look at genetic testing, gene variations and environmental causes. 5

Improved testing

Early breast cancer detection is extremely important to prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.  Patients should be informed and advocate for themselves to get the most effective tests they need to detect breast cancer early.  You can talk to your doctor about what type of imaging is best for you, keeping in mind that there are several imaging options including mammography, ultrasound and MRIs.

A new type of mammogram, called digital breast tomosynthesis, or DBT, but most commonly referred to as a 3-D mammogram, may help radiologists detect abnormalities better than a “regular” or 2-D mammogram.  

It is a more expensive test, and a study showed that this newer type of imaging is more widely available in areas of the country that have higher incomes, greater level of education and a larger white population.  Currently the American Cancer Society does not recommend it as standard of care, but the American College of Radiology does support its use.5  

Other forms of imaging are currently being studied and tested, so be sure to ask your doctor about the latest advancements available for detection.

Researchers are also looking to replace the needle biopsy with a “liquid biopsy” which gives information about the type of tumor through a blood test.

Reducing risk through medication

If you only see a primary care doctor, but are at increased risk for developing breast cancer,  be aware of these new guidelines put forth by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and bring them up with your doctor.

These guidelines recommend that if you are over the age of 35 and are at high risk for developing breast cancer, then you should consider taking one of these preventive medications:

  • tamoxifen
  • raloxifene
  • aromatase inhibitors7

 These are all medications that have shown through clinical studies to reduce the chance of getting cancer, yet most primary care physicians don’t prescribe them.

If you feel you should be on one of these preventive therapies and your primary doctor doesn’t feel comfortable prescribing them, ask for a referral to a breast specialist. 8

Drugs typically used to treat other conditions, like statins and bisphosphonates, are being studied for their potential impact on breast cancer reduction. The effect of dietary supplements such as grapeseed extract, folate, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B12 and B6 on risk reduction is also being studied.

Advances in pharmaceutical treatment

New drugs show potential in the fight against breast cancer:

  • Targeted therapies target gene changes in cancer cells to prevent growth. Drugs that target the HER2 gene and those that help hormone therapy are currently being used to treat breast cancer.
  • PARP inhibitors block what’s believed to be a broken repair system of damaged DNA in cells. Current studies show early potential in treating cancers caused by BRCA genetic mutations with PARP inhibitors.
  • Anti-angiogenesis drugs prevent the development of blood vessels that support cancer cells. Initial trials were not considered successful, but more research is being done in this area.9

Trials are also underway to look at ways to treat the side effects of breast cancer treatment, such as heart damage and brain symptoms.

Action: health and finances

Health: Talk to your doctor about your personal risk of developing breast cancer, and stay up to date on the latest breast cancer developments.  Be your own advocate to make sure you are getting the screenings and preventive medications you need to lower your risks of developing the disease.  Understand the different lifestyle choices you have control over and make adjustments where you can.

Finances: Consider buying supplemental insurance designed to help reduce both medical and non-medical expenses, like a supplemental insurance for cancer, especially if you have a strong family history of the disease.  Many insurance companies do not offer cancer –specific supplemental insurance policies to those who have a history of cancer, so it’s best to plan ahead while you’re healthy.  Coverage and benefits vary for every plan, so be sure to read the fine print and ask lots of questions.  If you are diagnosed with cancer, be sure to check your existing supplemental insurance to see if it may provide benefits due to your diagnosis.


1-Lieber, C. (2018, October 17). Breast cancer awareness products profit off survivors' suffering. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/10/17/17989624/pinkwashing-breast-cancer-awareness-products-profit.

2-Sgk. (n.d.). More Than Pink Walk. Retrieved from https://komenwisconsin.org/wisconsin-events/more-than-pink-walk/.

3-Staying Healthy: How To Stay Healthy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/healthy.html.

4-Chlebowski, R. T., Aragaki, A. K., Anderson, G. L., Pan, K., Neuhouser, M. L., Manson, J. E., … Prentice, R. L. (2019). Low-fat dietary pattern and long-term breast cancer incidence and mortality: The Women’s Health Initiative randomized clinical trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 37(15_suppl), 520–520. doi: 10.1200/jco.2019.37.15_suppl.520

5-What's New in Breast Cancer Research? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/whats-new-in-breast-cancer-research.html.

6-Richman, I. B. (2019, September 1). Adoption of Digital Breast Tomosynthesis in Clinical Practice. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2736352.

7-Final Recommendation Statement. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/breast-cancer-medications-for-risk-reduction1.

8-Pearson, C. (2019, October 4). Breast Cancer Prevention Drugs Recommended for Healthy, High-Risk Women. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/breast-cancer/new-guidelines-breast-cancer-preventing-drugs/.

9-Advances in Breast Cancer Research. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/research#treatment.


Get Covered For Individuals & Families

Get protection from the hidden costs of accidents, illnesses and income disruption.

Get Covered For Employers & Associations

Offer your employees additional benefits with no extra cost to your company.


Careers For Job Seekers

Join a fast-growing company – and pursue a career with a sense of purpose.

Corporate About Combined

Learn more about our leadership, our vision and what we're doing.

Start of statement by W. CLEMENT STONE, FOUNDERDo the right thing because it's the right thing to do.End of statement W. CLEMENT STONE, FOUNDER
Contact Combined Insurance