One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime in the United States. There is currently no cure for breast cancer, but 2016 has brought some significant breakthroughs in treatment as well as new ways to think about causes and risk factors.
Targeted Combo Therapy
In a recent study out of the UK, researchers used a combination of targeted cancer drugs to obliterate all signs of breast cancer in 11 percent of the patients in just 11 days. While 11% may not seem that impressive, for even one breast cancer tumor to be completely eradicated by a drug in less than two weeks is newsworthy and cause for celebration. Cancer tumors develop resistance to chemotherapy agents so quickly, that these drugs often have little impact on a tumor even after many months of treatment. Instead, tumors are typically surgically removed prior to beginning chemotherapy, which serves to eliminate any cancerous cells that may have spread.
The combination of Herceptin and Tykerb are not infused chemotherapies, but simple oral pills. In addition, these drugs are highly targeted treatments, and attack cancer cells specifically. That’s a huge benefit to patients because they come without the severe side effects of chemotherapy, which kills all rapidly dividing cells in the body like hair follicles and healthy bone marrow cells.
93 Breast Cancer Genes Identified
In May, researchers found 93 genes whose mutations convert a normal breast cell into a cancer cell. The study, conducted by the Sanger Institute in Cambridge in the United Kingdom, focused on 560 breast cancer patients and looked more deeply than ever at the mechanisms that go wrong in human DNA to make normal breast tissue mutate into cancer. During the study, researchers looked at 3 billion letters of each participant’s genetic code to uncover 93 genes that have the potential to mutate, resulting in breast cancer. Although some of these genes were already known, researchers are confident that this latest study nails down a more definitive list, with the exception of some very rare genetic mutations.
Their findings will be shared with universities and pharmaceutical and biotech companies so that everyone can work together to start developing new drugs. Researchers hope that more personalized therapies lead to better treatment outcomes and decreased mortality among people diagnosed with breast cancer.
Blood Test for Breast Cancer
Modern breast cancer detection usually consists of a mammogram exam, possibly followed by an invasive biopsy. However, earlier this year a partnership of Australian and French Scientists got closer than ever before to making a blood test for breast cancer a true possibility.
In a study published in September, researchers successfully discovered that the presence of isotopes carbon-13 and nitrogen-15 in certain proportions in a tissue sample can reveal whether the tissue is healthy or cancerous. According to the study’s lead researcher Professor Guillaume Tcherkez, this means that in only a few years, doctors may be able to not only detect breast cancer using a simple blood test, but also monitor it.
When it comes to breast cancer, awareness and prevention are usually the big buzzwords. But it’s important to remember just how far we’ve already come. These advances are significant and will hopefully lead to improved methods in diagnoses and treatment for millions of women.