RD s p e c i a l

A Pill to Prevent Breast Cancer?

HOW DAD CAN RAISE YOUR RISK
If your mom or her sisters never got breast cancer, you don’t have to worry, right? Wrong. You’re just as likely to inherit the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, the biggest genetic predictors of the disease, from Dad’s side of the family. Having the mutations means you have a 50% chance of getting breast cancer before age 50. So ask Dad about his family history, and if your doc doesn’t bring it up, make sure you do. BRCA mutations are just one piece of the family tree puzzle. Scientists are trying to pinpoint a group of weaker, or “low-penetrance,” genes. Alone, they raise the odds of the disease only slightly. But a woman with several of them might see that risk skyrocket.
C. D.

R

evolutionary drugs that block or stop estrogen are extending the lives of women with breast cancer. Soon the drugs known as aromatase inhibitors may even help prevent the disease. Trials are under way in high-risk postmenopausal women. It’s a tricky area, though. Unlike hormone therapies such as tamoxifen, which block estrogen, aromatase inhibitors prevent estrogen from being produced in the first place. This can lead to bone loss, and doctors may be reluctant to put an otherwise healthy woman at risk for osteoporosis. Still, the new medications are making a difference. One study found that after they became more widely used, survival increased by 30%, or about 7.5 months. Doctors expect that number to grow. Edith Perez, MD, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, is launching a trial comparing the effectiveness of the drugs Tykerb and Herceptin. Both disable the HER2 protein that can make cancer cells grow. Some women in the study will get both drugs to see if they offer a double punch to the enemy protein. CYNTHIA DERMODY
200
PH OTO-IL LUSTRATIONS BY MA RGA R ET R IEGEL

(RIBBON) COURTESY NBCF