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Discover the five highlights of the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation’s May 11 Forum, during which experts from a variety of fields presented their latest findings.

Demystifying pregnancy-associated breast cancer

Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in pregnant women? One pregnant woman out of every 3,000 is diagnosed. It is possible to treat breast cancer during pregnancy, but the process is complex. The trimester at the time of the diagnosis, the type of cancer and its stage determine the treatment options available. The mother will still be able to nurse in some cases.

This type of cancer is often diagnosed late due to the natural changes that occur in the breast tissue during pregnancy, which is why it is important to intensify research and awareness-raising efforts.  Pregnant women should be aware of the symptoms of breast cancer during this period and mention any persistent changes to their doctor. Note that breast cancer screening tests (manual breast exam, ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy) are safe for mother and baby during pregnancy.

Further, research has helped better understand the unique cellular environment in which this cancer develops and has unfortunately demonstrated that pregnancy-associated breast cancer is three times as likely to metastasize to the liver.

Medical marijuana: A complementary treatment

According to Health Canada, more than 300,000 Canadians use medical marijuana. A spike in requests for access to medical marijuana by cancer patients and healthcare professionals in 2017 led to the first hospital pilot project of its kind in the country, led by Dr. Antonio Vigano of the McGill University Health Centre. The aim was to examine the feasibility of offering the treatment to a larger number of cancer patients. The findings: Marijuana is a good complementary approach to standard treatment, to manage side effects like nerve pain, significant weight loss and insomnia, among others. However, it remains overly difficult to access. More research and training is still needed to educate healthcare professionals.

Hope for those with metastatic Stage 4 breast cancer

There is no treatment for metastatic breast cancer (MBC) as of yet. MBC, simply called “Stage 4,” means that the cancer has spread through the body to the bones, liver, brain and/or lungs. In Canada, 5% of breast cancers are metastatic at the time of diagnosis and 30% of breast cancer patients develop metastases. There is a median survival rate of two years. However, thanks to clinical research, there is hope. The survival rate continues to rise year by year, with some survivors living up to 15 years. Many treatment options exist to manage the side effects, slow the disease’s progress, increase the chances of survival and improve quality of life. New immunotherapy treatments have been approved to treat more advanced skin and lung cancers. These same treatments are being used in clinical trials to treat MBC, with promising results.

True or false? Soy increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence

False. Regular soy consumption is safe for breast cancer survivors. But more than that, foods made from soybeans contain phytoestrogens, molecules that mimic estrogen, a hormone synthesized by the human body. Foods containing these molecules include edamame, tofu, miso and tempeh. Estrogen contributes to the spread of certain types of cancer cells, while phytoestrogens destroy them. Phytoestrogens can regularly be consumed in foods without raising the risk of cancer reoccurrence. However, supplements are contraindicated if you’ve been diagnosed with a hormone-dependent cancer (of the breast, ovaries or uterus).

Cancer and caregivers: How can we take care of those who are caring for their loved ones?

In Quebec, 1 person out of 5—or 1.6 million Quebecers—is a natural caregiver. Of this number, a third experience moments of psychological distress: financial insecurity, anxiety, exhaustion and intense frustration with institutions, among others.  Thankfully, tools are available for caregivers. The government offers tax credits, caregiving benefits, respite services and more. Technology can also help. Huddol is a free online platform that gathers a community of caregivers who help each other and share their knowledge and experiences. There is also an application, MedHelper, that helps caregivers keep track of their patient’s medication. Finally, the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation offers psychological support. Caregivers can call toll-free at 1-877-990-7171, ext. 250, or email us at soutien@rubanrose.org.