Those bright eyes and chubby cheeks may be hard to resist, but researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have good reason to believe you should.
In a study published online in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, researchers found that the interval between starting menstruation and first giving birth is inversely associated with the risk of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a subtype of the disease that does not depend on hormones such as estrogen to grow and spread, and therefore does not respond to hormone-blocking drugs such as Tamoxifen. To put it plainly, women who wait at least 15 years after their first menstrual period to give birth to their first child may reduce their risk of the aggressive form of breast cancer by up to 60 percent, the report states.
It's a finding that researchers say African-American women want to consider especially, since they experience disproportionately high rates of triple-negative disease.
In fact, study author Christopher I. Li, M.D. says that his findings may actually explain why black women tend to develop triple-negative breast cancer more often than other groups. African-American women are more likely to start having children at a younger age and are less likely to breast-feed, Li said, pointing to several previous studies that have suggested that breast-feeding provides a protective effect against triple-negative disease.
Previous studies have also countered Li's latest claim, however, showing that waiting to have children may actually increase your breast cancer risk. But, like Li, researchers note that the type of breast cancer key.
The risk of the most common subtype of breast cancer, ER positive, for example, has proven to be lower among women who've had a full-term pregnancy and have breast-fed. The reason, researchers believe, is that the hormones associated with pregnancy induce certain changes in the cellular structure of the breast that make the tissue less susceptible to this type of cancer.
And while prevention trumps having to fight off triple negative disease, researchers honed in on two successful ways to do it this year. In October, scientists pinpointed a new compound created from a rich source in vegetables, including broccoli and brussel sprouts, to combat TNBC, while researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York discovered that a certain form of smallpox vaccine was able to kill 90 percent of cancer cells in four days of treatment.
Here's a look at 7 more breakthroughs in breast cancer research over the last year, with high stakes for the African-American women and men.
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One Treatment Does Not Fit All
In a landmark series of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/breast-cancer-gene-study-new-treatment-black-women_n_1910142.html">studies that honed in on four major classes of breast cancer</a> last month, researchers have been able to provide clues as to why the disease differs between races. At North Shore-LIJ Health System's Monter Cancer Center, researchers found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/breast-cancer-genetics-race-therapy-treatment_n_1574724.html">Caucasian women may carry microRNAs that protect against breast cancer, genes that African American women don't carry.</a> The finding not only explains why cancer outcomes are often different between black and white women, it also supports the importance of personalized treatment for cancer that focuses on the genetic make-up of tumors, rather than a one-treatment-fits-all approach.
"D" Stands For Decreased Risk
A study published in the journal <em>Breast Cancer Research</em> in April revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/08/vitamin-d-may-reduce-breast-cancer-in-black-women-study_n_1411599.html">African-American women with the highest levels of vitamin D also had a specific variation in the vitamin D receptor that cut their breast cancer risk in half</a>, compared to women without it. About a third of African Americans are vitamin D deficient, however, and melanin in the skin make it harder for many to get enough. Along with a healthy does of sunshine, experts recommend a vitamin D supplement of 600 IU per day.
Even Moderate Exercise Helps
In June, researchers at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill found that women who<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/exercise-breast-cancer-risk-moderate_n_1619175.html"> exercise between 10 and 19 hours each week had a 30 percent lower risk of breast cancer</a>. And there isn't a need to break a serious sweat either. <em>All</em> levels of exercise intensity were linked with a decreased risk, the study authors said.
Regular Screening Are Key To Closing Racial Gaps
According to a study published in <em>Breast Cancer Research</em> in August, <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120925153327.htm">mammograms may be the key to closing the breast cancer gap between black and white women.</a> When study participants received regular breast screening, "there was no difference in the rate of how many of them presented in the disease's later stages," researchers found. "This study reinforces the fact that racial gaps in breast cancer outcomes can be improved," said lead author Dr. Paula Grabler, an assistant professor of radiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a radiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Affordable Care Is Within Reach
In a <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/public-global-health/259519-obama-sebelius-healthcare-law-is-fighting-breast-cancer">commemoration of Breast Cancer Awareness month Monday, President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius</a> credited the Affordable Care Act with bringing on "a new day for women's health and the fight against breast cancer." According to Sebelius, the healthcare law "means that women can get the potentially life-saving services they need to detect breast cancer before it spreads, without worrying how a copay would affect their family budget."
Existing Treatments Work
A September study by Washington University researchers suggests basal-like breast tumors, one of the deadliest forms of the disease that has been shown to disproportionately affect younger women and those who are African-American, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/breast-cancer-gene-study-new-treatment-black-women_n_1910142.html">have a similar genetic makeup to ovarian tumors and could potentially be treated with the same drugs. </a> This means some women may be able to forgo less effective treatments that are typically used for basal-like tumors and have been know to cause heart problems and lead to the development of other cancers, including leukemia.
Triple-Negative Treatments Are Closer
The notoriously fatal triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) may have met its match, according to researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who found that a form of the small pox virus can be used against TBNC. In the study released this week, researchers found that a certain form of smallpox vaccine was able to kill 90 percent of TBNC cells in four days of treatment. It also inhibited blood flow to the cancer stopping its spread. TNBC is found in about 15 out of every 100 cases and is more likely to occur in Hispanics and African Americans.