October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: USC experts share the latest research

Early detection of breast cancer is the key

“The best advice I can give women is, know your breasts,” said Maria Nelson, breast surgical oncologist at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Pay attention to and alert your doctor if there are any changes, such as a new mass, redness, nipple discharge, dimpling or thickening of the skin or lumps under the armpit.

“Early detection of cancer leads to the best outcomes.”

She added:

  • Don’t skip mammograms. A normal result one year doesn’t mean next year’s screening won’t show changes.
  • Women with dense breasts should visit a center that offers 3D mammograms to detect small, subtle cancers a traditional mammogram may not pick up.
  • Some centers, like the USC Norris cancer center, also have breast-trained radiologists who only read breast imaging, resulting in more accurate diagnoses.

Dr. Nelson is experienced with advanced breast surgical techniques; her research interests include the diagnostic role of breast imaging techniques and the complex nature of decision-making in breast cancer care.

Is there a link between diet and breast cancer risk?

“We know that diet may contribute up to 30 percent of the cancer burden,” said Mariana Carla Stern, professor of Preventive Medicine & Urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Given that most cancers are caused by multiple factors that act jointly, and likely in different combinations in different people, the more we know about modifiable risk factors that we can change, the more we can reduce the cancer burden in the population.”

  • Stern’s research has found Latinas who eat processed meats such as bacon and sausage may have an increased risk for breast cancer. Latinas who consumed about 20 grams of processed meat per day were 42 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer compared with Latinas who ate no or little processed meats.
  • The study adds to evidence that genetics and lifestyle choices affect cancer risk, and specifically to evidence of the negative health effects of consuming processed meat such as bacon, beef jerky and lunch meats.
  • Stern was also co-author of another analysis looking at 15 studies on red and processed meat consumption and breast cancer risk, which found processed meat consumption was associated with a 9% higher breast cancer risk.

Dr. Stern is the associate director of population sciences at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and program director of the CaRE2 Health Equity Center. Her research interests include diet and cancer and cancer health disparities in Latino populations.



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