There is hope for breast cancer patients …. definitively more than for example >10 years ago.
Having that said, breast cancer research must not slow down. In contrary. Worldwide breast cancer affects a high percentage of the female population (an estimated 12 % according to McGuire at al. 2015). It is the most common invasive cancer in women and greatly impacts their lives. According to the 2016 AACR Cancer Progress report, the estimated 2016 incidence of breast cancer in the US is 246,660 for female patients (2,600 for male patients). Estimated number of deaths is 40,890 in total. That’s why it is so important to keep up the tradition of creating awareness and educating about breast cancer during October each year.
The hope mentioned above is based on excellent progress in imaging, early detection, and breast conserving surgery techniques and targeted therapy over recent decades.
I believe breast cancer is one of the better understood among cancers and many patients have good chances to be cured or to survive a significant number of years while having good or at least acceptable quality of life. However, the need to find more effective, more specific and less toxic treatments and therapeutic strategies for rare types of breast cancer is still there. Breast cancer is a very heterogeneous disease and research has revealed new patient subgroups. The community will not be satisfied until there is a good treatment for every single subgroup. It definitely helps that breast cancer patients and their families are very demanding and put a lot of energy into charity events and the foundation of societies that focus on and support breast cancer research.
The goal is to find new targets and biomarkers to develop new treatments for patients. The most recent success story concerned a CDK4/6 inhibitor but other approaches are underway including PARP inhibitors – a very promising approach especially in combination with radiotherapy or chemotherapy in women with mutations in the BRCA 1 and/or 2 genes. I will write about that in more detail in follow up blog postings.
Between February 2004 and August 2009, I worked on several breast cancer projects at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Yale Cancer Center in basic and translational science labs, respectively. At Yale, I had the opportunity to collaborate with MDs who specialized in breast cancer and who conducted highly innovate trials. It can be very rewarding to do this research together as a team. Most PhD scientists don’t know from experience what a patient has to go through while MDs may not know how to develop assays for biomarker or disease monitoring. I also remember very well the Yale events during October from that period of my career when patients would come to listen to our medical experts and ask questions.
One important topic in the field of breast cancer that may or may not get sufficient attention is breast cancer prevention. Studies have shown that women with a healthy diet and exercise habit are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. This will be a topic of a follow up posting of my blog series.
McGuire, A. et al. (2015) Effects of age on the detection and management of breast cancer. Cancers 7 (2): 908-29.
www.cancerprogressreport.org : AACR Cancer Progress Report 2016: Saving Lives Through Research.