About UCSF Search UCSF UCSF Medical Center

'Winning the War' on Breast Cancer

By UCSF Today | October 27, 2006

With one in every eight US women diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, this disease has affected the population on a grand scale.

Each year, roughly 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 die. With exceptionally high rates in the Bay Area -- Marin County's is among the highest in the country -- UCSF scientists have joined the fight with full force, and are continually making advancements in risk assessment, diagnosis and clinical care.

Laura Esserman, breast cancer surgeon and clinical leader of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center's Breast Oncology Program at the UCSF Mount Zion campus, says there are many factors that influence the risk of breast cancer. Only about 5 percent of cases are attributed to hereditary cancer syndromes, mostly based on a rare mutation in two genes: breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer 2 (BRCA2).

Most scientists agree that increased risk is more strongly associated with environmental and lifestyle factors. Such factors include being overweight after menopause, minimal exercise and having an unhealthy diet with high alcohol consumption. There are also "reproductive" factors, such as having children later in life, not bearing children, not breastfeeding, early age at onset of menstruation and late menopause -- all of which increase estrogen levels and increase risk.

Esserman also suggests that hormone replacement therapy increases breast cancer risk. "In Marin County, there was a decline in hormone therapy a few years ago, and last year, we saw the first-ever decrease in reported breast cancer in this area," she says. "I don't think that is a coincidence."

(Note that in November 2007 the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center was renamed the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.)

Read more at UCSF Today