Dr. Maurer on The 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium

Once again this symposium delivered an outstanding cross section of topics all related to breast cancer. Almost 9,000 doctors, patient advocates and researchers gathered to hear the latest breast cancer research data and updates on many clinical trials including the benefits of the aromatase inhibitors (hormonal therapy for post-menopausal breast cancer). Two talks were of special interest to me as they emphasize just how important the work of The Maurer Foundation is with its educational programs.

The first talk, an epidemiological perspective on the causes and prevention of breast cancer was given by Dr. Valerie Beral, University of Oxford, Oxford U.K. Her talk discussed the areas of child bearing, lactation and nutrition.  She believes that cultural differences in these areas account for the international disparities in breast cancer incidents between the developed and developing countries.

Dr. Beral discussed alcohol, height, body mass and age at menarche and its relationships to breast cancer. She mentioned that there’s really nothing one can do about their height and menarche, however one has control over their alcohol intake and body mass. I happen to feel that the age of menarche may be altered by increasing the activity level of our children from the time they are able to walk which could possibly have an impact on the epidemic of childhood obesity we’re currently facing as well as impact heart cancer risks.

As far as child bearing is concerned, Dr. Beral introduced fascinating facts beyond age at first birth. She clearly stated that number of births and the length of breast feeding are also important factors. So the earlier the age at first birth, the more children one bears, and the longer one breast feeds potentially can reduce the risk of breast cancer.  This is why so many women in developed countries are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.  We are at an older age when we give birth to our first child, we tend to have fewer children, and we breast feed for a shorter period of time. She also said that while a woman is taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or oral contraceptive pills her risk for breast cancer is increased but this increased risk is lost approximately 4-5 years after a woman discontinues using HRT or birth control pills.

In summary Dr. Beral states “it is neither desirable nor feasible for women to revert to childbearing patterns of the past to prevent breast cancer. If we want sizable reductions in breast cancer incidence we need to develop an appropriate way of mimicking the effects of child bearing on the breasts.” Perhaps it will be possible to develop a short term “hormonal” vaccine to provide long term protection against breast cancer.

Virginia E. Maurer, MD
Diseases of the Breast

More interesting facts by Dr. Beral

  • In developed countries 10% of women by the age of 80-85 will have breast cancer.
  • In the USA this year 180,000 women developed breast cancer.
  • To afford women a 20% reduction in breast cancer one would have to eliminate obesity, alcohol and hormone replacement therapy.

Stay tuned for more of Dr. Maurer’s thoughts on the 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium…