Personal Growth Following Breast Cancer Diagnosis

smiles-for-survivors-foundationAs National Breast Cancer Awareness month draws to a close, and the world becomes a little less pink, we share with you some positive news to help sustain the momentum until next October.

Although breast cancer is usually an extremely stressful experience for most of the 300,000 or so women in the US diagnosed each year, a new study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has found that there also can be unexpected benefits.

Many women who have breast cancer often experience distress but sometimes are surprised that they also may experience a variety of positive outcomes following diagnosis,” said Suzanne Danhauer, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

pink white houseThe study, which is published in the current online edition of the journal Psycho-Oncology, examined change in post-traumatic growth (PTG) over two years in 653 women.

PTG is defined as the positive psychological change experienced as a result of a struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. Commonly reported aspects of PTG include enhanced interpersonal relationships, increased appreciation for life, a sense of increased personal strength, greater spirituality and changes in life priorities or goals.

women-smiling-together2Participants completed surveys within eight months of diagnosis and also six, 12 and 18 months after that. The survey results were assessed using the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) – an instrument for assessing positive outcomes reported by persons who have experienced highly stressful or traumatic events.

According to the researchers, total PTGI scores increased over time mostly within the first few months following diagnosis. Greater PTGI scores were associated with education level, longer time since diagnosis, greater baseline level of illness intrusiveness and increases in social support, spirituality, use of active-adaptive coping strategies and mental health.

Our findings suggest that there are women who see a variety of positive changes during and after breast cancer treatment,” Danhauer said. “Our study showed just how common it is for women to talk about the good things that have happened in their lives because of this illness, and it doesn’t seem to be related to how optimistic a person is or not.”  The study also showed that an increased amount of social support was associated with more post-traumatic growth in these women.

Way to go ladies.  A great example of when life gives you lemons…make lemonade?!?  Better yet, find somebody else whose life has given them vodka, and throw a lemon drop party.

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Putting the squeeze on breast cancer

Woman examining her breasts and underarm area of her body for any cancer growth, tumour or cancerous abnormalities. Image shot 2010. Exact date unknown.UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have literally put the squeeze on malignant breast cancer cells to guide them back into a normal growth pattern.

The findings, presented last month at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, showed for the first time that mechanical forces alone can revert and stop the out-of-control growth of cancer cells.

And, it seems, this change happens even though the genetic mutations responsible for malignancy remain, setting up a nature-versus-nurture battle in determining a cell’s fate.

We are showing that tissue organization is sensitive to mechanical inputs from the environment at the beginning stages of growth and development,” said principal investigator Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering at Berkeley. “Compression, appears to get these malignant cells back on the right track.”

breastcellsThroughout a woman’s life, breast tissue grows, shrinks and shifts in a highly organized way in response to changes in her reproductive cycle. For instance, when forming the berry-shaped structures that secrete milk during lactation, healthy breast cells rotate as they form an organized structure.

One of the early hallmarks of breast cancer is the breakdown of this normal growth pattern. Not only do cancer cells continue to grow irregularly when they shouldn’t, recent studies have shown that they do not rotate coherently.

While the traditional view of cancer focuses on genetic mutations within the cell, scientists at the Berkeley Lab showed that a malignant cell is not doomed to become a tumor. Instead, its fate is dependent on its interaction with the surrounding microenvironment. Better still, manipulation of this environment can tame mutated mammary cells into behaving normally.

breast compressionPeople have known for centuries that physical force can influence our bodies,” said researcher Gautham Venugopalan. “When we lift weights, our muscles get bigger. The force of gravity is essential to keeping our bones strong. Here we show that physical force can play a role in the growth and reversion of cancer cells.”

Venugopalan and collaborators grew malignant breast epithelial cells in a gelatin-like substance that had been injected into flexible silicone chambers. The flexible chambers allowed the researchers to apply a compressive force during the first stages of cell development. Over time, the compressed malignant cells grew into more organized, healthy-looking structures, compared with malignant cells that were not compressed.  Notably, those cells stopped growing once the breast tissue structure was formed, even though the compressive force had been removed.

Malignant cells have not completely forgotten how to be healthy; they just need the right cues to guide them back into a healthy growth pattern,” said Venugopalan.

While researchers are not proposing compression bras as a treatment for breast cancer, they say their work provides new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies.

All of which is good news for the girls!

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Guys in Bras

Would you pay to see a guy in a bra?

What if it was a strapping linebacker modeling the abovementioned undergarment, complete with blinking lights, and other assorted bling?

If you live in Detroit, in exchange for a donation, your chance to see not just one, but 20 or so athletes and future army officers in bras is coming soon.

Every year, since 2004, the student chapter of the Society of Intellectual Sisters at Michigan Technological University puts on its annual guys-in-a-bra fashion show to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

The event also features a speech by a breast cancer survivor and an auction of the hand-decorated bras sported by members of the football team, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and the Society of African American Men.

“It’s fun to watch the guys strut their stuff,” says organizer Lydia Brame.  Last spring, the theme was candy; next spring it will be Las Vegas. Expect bras decorated with dice, chips and roulette wheels.

For all the fun, the Bra Show is serious stuff. “Support the cause,” the Michigan Tech women say. “Uplift the world, a woman at a time.”

SRxA’s Word on Health thinks this is a great idea and one that could be adopted by colleges all over the country. Would you be man enough to step up to the challenge?