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Published on July 28, 2020

Kelly Preston’s tragic death shows breast cancer remains a risk

Breast Cancer Risk

When actor Kelly Preston died from breast cancer on July 12, it was a reminder that while great strides have been made in breast cancer detection and treatment, the disease is still a threat.

Preston, known for her roles in “Twins,” “Spacecamp” and “Jerry Maguire,” was only 57 at the time of her death. She had fought cancer for two years, according to an Instagram post by her husband, actor John Travolta, although he did not mention specifics about her disease or treatment. However, some cancers are more virulent than others or more dangerous because they are discovered at a late stage and already have metastasized to other parts of the body, said Anne Morris, MD a radiologist with Cape Cod Healthcare.

“Breast cancer has a very low death rate because it is treatable when caught early,” she said. “Early detection through screening and breast exams results in a better prognosis and less aggressive treatment.”

The death rate for breast cancer was 19.7 per 100,000 women in 2018, compared to 127.9 per 100,000 women for heart disease, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks health statistics. Breast cancer deaths are down from 26.2 per 100,000 in 1992, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Death rates have continued to slowly decrease in recent years due to screening and increased awareness, as well as better cancer treatments,” Dr. Morris said. “When cancers are diagnosed in later stages, such as after they have metastasized, the death rate is higher.”

In light of Preston’s death, here are some other answers to breast cancer questions from Dr. Morris:

  • What kinds of breast cancers are the most dangerous? The most aggressive breast cancers include Triple-negative breast cancer, named because it lacks receptors for estrogen, progesterone and the protein called human epidermal growth factor, or HER2, which unlock more treatment options. Inflammatory breast cancer, a rare cancer that causes inflammation and redness of the skin, is also more dangerous, Dr. Morris said. The CDC says to call your doctor immediately if your breast looks red and swollen and feels warm.
  • What’s the latest in technology at CCHC for detecting breast cancer? The latest tools include tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography, which images each breast from different angles, capturing many pictures of thin layers of tissue. CCHC also offers screening breast MRIs to patients who are considered high risk.
  • What current guidelines does CCHC follow for breast imaging? CCHC follows the American College of Radiology (ACR) guidelines that recommend annual screening starting at age 40 for women at average risk. Women also should have a yearly clinical breast exam in which a healthcare professional feels the breast, underarm and area just below the clavicle for unusual lumps or symptoms. Self-breast exams are no longer recommended as an official screening tool, but women should be familiar with their breasts and report any changes to their doctor, Dr. Morris said.
  • Besides regular screening, what are some things women can do to lower their risk of breast cancer? There are some risk factors you can’t change. For example, genetics increase risk significantly, although 85 percent of women who get breast cancer have no family history. The most significant risk factor is age. Most breast cancers are found in women age 50 and older, according to the CDC. Women with dense breasts and those who start menstruating before the age of 12, or women who go through menopause after 55, are exposed to hormones for a longer period and are at higher risk. That said, limiting alcohol consumption, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk, Dr. Morris said.

Below are specific COVID-19 safety protocols currently in place at both Cuda Women's Health Center and Seifer Women's Health and Imaging Center. Click here to learn more about how Cape Cod Healthcare is taking additional precautions to protect both our patients and staff.

  • All patients are screened for symptoms prior to and the day of their appointment.
  • All staff and patients are required to wear face coverings at all times.
  • Patients are asked to sanitize their hands when they enter.
  • Appointments are spaced out so that waiting rooms have fewer patients and staff have time to thoroughly clean the room.
  • Chairs are spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Patients are now given patient belonging bags instead of utilizing lockers.
  • Patients are pre-registered and give verbal consent in place of consent pad signature.