German top model Tatjana Patitz died at the age of 56 as a result of breast cancer. Thousands of women in Germany also contract it every year. Breast cancer, if detected early, is easily curable. What warning signs to look out for.
Many women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. According to the Center for Cancer Registry Data of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), it is the most common form of cancer in women in Germany. According to the Center for Cancer Registry Data, around 69,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. It is more common in young women than other types of cancer.
Doctors therefore recommend women to regularly examine themselves from the age of 25. Breast cancer is treacherous because it manifests itself for a long time without any noticeable symptoms. A tumor often only becomes apparent when women feel their breasts. In addition, it is only possible to detect a tumor if it is one centimeter in diameter.
The risk of developing breast cancer increases steadily from the age of 25. According to statistics from the Robert Koch Institute, women aged 65 to 69 have the highest risk. There are also a number of other factors that influence the risk of a tumor.
The female sex hormones estrogen and progestin often play a crucial role in the development of breast cancer. The longer the hormone levels fluctuate monthly, the higher the probability of illness. Therefore, according to the Robert Koch Institute, an early first menstrual period and a late onset of menopause increase the risk of breast cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy can also increase the risk. Mothers who also breastfeed their children have a lower risk than childless women. The more children and the longer the breastfeeding period, the lower the risk of disease.
Lack of exercise and obesity also increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Exercise is fundamentally a factor that helps prevent breast cancer. According to the medical organization GenoGyn, women who are physically active for 30 to 60 minutes a day have a 20 to 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who do not exercise. It also helps not to smoke and reduce alcohol consumption as much as possible. Women should therefore have no more than one glass of wine per day.
Diet also has a significant impact on cancer risk. A balanced diet with lots of berries, fruit and vegetables, especially cabbage, has a positive effect. Wholemeal products, legumes and nuts should also be on the menu – but meat and sausage only two to three times a week. You can also support your health if you replace animal oils with vegetable oils. According to the experts, this not only helps to reduce the risk of breast cancer, but also to prevent other types of cancer.
According to the gynecological cooperative, the female body needs folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, pre- and probiotics and phytoestrogens. These are found in soy, for example. In addition, women should avoid chronic stress and ensure a healthy and restful sleep.
There are also risk factors over which we have no control, such as age or genetic predisposition. About five to ten out of 100 breast cancer patients have so-called risk genes that trigger breast cancer. The best known are BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BRCA: Breast Cancer Gene).
Around 50 to 80 percent of women with such a gene mutation will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Therefore, despite all preventive measures, the disease cannot be avoided.
In recent years, the survival time and the chances of recovery from breast cancer have improved significantly. One of the reasons for this is that breast cancer is usually detected earlier today. The health insurance companies regularly pay for early detection examinations. According to the German Cancer Society, women between the ages of 30 and 49 and over 70 can have a palpation examination once a year. Women between the ages of 50 and 69 can also have a mammography screening every two years.
Since the biology of breast cancer can vary greatly, drugs do not have the same effect on every patient, but must be selected based on the molecular characteristics of the disease.
Based on these findings, the treatment of breast cancer has made tremendous progress. The three most common therapies, which are often combined for breast cancer, are:
Today, the women and doctors affected by the disease want to avoid stressful operations such as mastectomy (amputation) and removal of the lymph nodes in the armpit if possible. “The goal is to operate to conserve the breast,” says oncologist Olaf Ortmann, President of the German Cancer Society.
“In recent years, it has been possible to achieve the same or better chances of a cure with less radical surgery than with radical procedures.” Currently, only 20 percent of cancer patients have their breasts removed, whereas this used to be the case for more than half of the sick women.
Most breast cancer therapy consists of the triad
When chemotherapy is required, different cytostatics are often combined to target the cancer at different stages of development. The therapy is possible by infusion, but sometimes also in tablet form.
In many cases, treatment with cytostatics can even be dispensed with, for example when the cancer is in a very early stage – or when it has certain biological characteristics that make it vulnerable to other drugs. These are, for example, anti-hormonal drugs.
Breast cancer is often hormone-sensitive, meaning it has receptors for estrogen or progesterone. So these hormones fuel its growth. If they are blocked, tumor growth is slowed down. This can be achieved with anti-hormonal drugs such as aromatase inhibitors. Olaf Ortmann reports that women with metastatic breast disease are often treated successfully over long periods with very few side effects by using several anti-hormonal therapies one after the other.
In other forms of breast cancer, the cells have HER2 receptors. The abbreviation stands for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. HER2 receptors are binding sites for growth factors that cause cancer cells to divide rapidly. Here, oncologists use antibodies that block these receptors, such as the well-known trastuzumab and a newer drug, pertuzumab.
CDK4 inhibitors (cyclin-dependent kinases) are also promising, says the cancer specialist. These are inhibitors that disrupt the cell cycle of the tumor cell. They are suitable for the combined treatment with anti-hormonal substances of advanced, metastatic breast cancer that is hormone-sensitive.
What is particularly positive about these relatively new cancer drugs is that they cause fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
By the way, immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors, which plays an increasing role in other common cancers such as skin cancer, is (so far) even less suitable for most forms of breast cancer. Immunotherapy only seems to be an option for the very rare but aggressive triple-negative breast cancer (no estrogen, progesterone and HER-2 receptors).
All of these innovations drastically improve the prognosis for breast cancer. “In all stages, the chance of survival after ten years is on average 80 percent,” says Olaf Ortmann. If breast cancer is diagnosed early and is less than two centimeters small, more than 90 percent of the patients are still alive after 15 years.
The treatment of breast cancer is therefore becoming more effective: gentler on the patient, but more effective against the cancer cells. “The biology of this heterogeneous disease is playing an increasingly important role,” summarizes the oncologist. Depending on the molecular characteristics of the tumor, doctors determine the individual therapy schedule for the patient.
She is in ideal hands in one of the breast cancer centers certified by the German Cancer Society. Doctors work hand in hand here on an interdisciplinary basis. New scientific findings and innovative therapies are quickly implemented and made accessible to every patient. You can find breast cancer centers near you in the OncoMap of the German Cancer Society.