During Breast Cancer Awareness month, we often focus on patients and survivors, on ribbons and walks, and of course, on those we’ve lost. We connect with family members or wear pink to work while reminding friends and coworkers to donate to research. But how much do we pay attention to that research once it’s funded?
Happily, we are in yet another year of declining deaths from breast cancer, and a huge part of that success comes from the ever-evolving techniques for screening and treatment. Here are a few recent advancements that you may not have heard about.
Nipple-Sparing Mastectomies Are More Routine
What was experimental only a couple of years ago is now becoming a well-known technique across the nation. Previously, most mastectomies included the removal of the nipple, especially because of the plethora of ducts located directly under the surface. The fear of recurrence ultimately trumped the cosmetic benefit of saving the nipple.
However, studies have shown that recurrence is less likely than previously thought. As a result, new methods for mastectomies have taken the nipple into consideration! Nipple-sparing mastectomies allow women to keep their nipples, which can make reconstruction look significantly more natural. This type of surgery is especially preferred by women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene who undergo an elective mastectomy to prevent cancer growth.
New Medicines Treat Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Triple-negative breast cancer cells do not produce three of the most common receptors targeted by chemotherapy drugs, making the cancer more difficult to treat.National Breast Cancer Foundation
A drug which has been used successfully on Leukemia patients may be the key to fighting triple-negative breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer means that the tumor does not express the genes for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors or Her2/neu, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. These receptors send out growth signals which can be targeted by a cancer drug, halting or slowing down the growth of the tumor. Since triple-negative tumors do not have these receptors, they are much harder to treat.
However, a new drug called Lynparza (olaparib) targets a molecule called P1M1, which assists in cellular repair processes. When cancer is present, this molecule becomes overproduced, helping cancer cells survive chemotherapy treatments. By targeting P1M1, Lynparza helps increase the vulnerability of breast cancer cells to other drugs.
Immunotherapy Makes Treatment Personal
Immunotherapy works with the body’s immune system to build up its defenses against cancer. Examples of immunotherapy strategies include monoclonal antibodies and checkpoint blockers, which work with T-cells to inhibit cancer cell growth.
While immunotherapy is a growing segment of cancer treatment in general, it’s specifically helpful for those with breast cancer, especially because some immunotherapy can be used to halt or slow the progress of metastatic cancers. This means that patients who might previously might have had weeks to live now be able to treat their cancer like a chronic disease, with increased years to live and quality of life. Plus, these therapies can be matched to the patient’s immune system, allowing physicians greater personalization of treatment.
Researchers Identify Possible Relapse Cause
Despite the continued increase in breast cancer survival rates, relapse is still a sad reality and a terrifying possibility for thousands of women. However, researchers are hard at work trying to figure out what causes relapse — and how to stop it.
In a paper published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a group of researchers posited that cells left behind from a first bout of breast cancer may retain an “oncogenic memory.” As a result, these cells process lipids differently from normal tissue cells, which the researchers say may play a role in relapse. During lab studies, the group found that mice whose cells were treated for this metabolic difference were less likely to have a recurrence. The scientists hope to use this knowledge to develop techniques for preventing relapse.
Moving Breast Cancer Research Forward
We at ConsumerSafety.org commend survivors, stand with those still fighting, and remember those we’ve lost. While breast cancer is still a devastating reality of life, these advances give us hope. With each step, we get closer to 100% survivorship and a time when we no longer have to wear pink ribbons every year.