There’s Promise in Breast Cancer Research
By Cynthia Gutierrez-White
I was 21 years old when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, 27 when my aunt was diagnosed so the topic of breast cancer is a personal one for me. Every October, for years, I wore the pink ribbon, supported breast cancer nonprofits, raised funds, ran 5Ks, coordinated 5Ks and every year I would read the articles in search for something new, for hope, but every year the content was the same: do your monthly breast self-exams, get your mammogram, 1:8 women will be diagnosed in her lifetime, men get it too.
I wanted to know how treatment has changed in the last 10-20 years. I’ve worked at top medical institutions, including Johns Hopkins, so I wanted to see how the industry has made medical advancements and hit scientific milestones. I did my own research and found these exciting developments in the fight against breast cancer.
· 3-D Mammography
Also known as tomosynthesis or “tomo,” 3-D mammograms capture X-ray images of breast tissue at multiple angles to create a digital 3-D picture of the breast. This technology allows radiologists to examine breast tissue layer-by-layer and detect breast abnormalities and tumors at earlier stages.
· Tumor Profiling
The tumor’s stage and whether it has a significant amount of hormone receptors, can determine which therapies would be effective. Nowadays doctors are “tumor profiling,” meaning they are looking for certain genes within the tumor to help select the best treatment. The genetic profile of the tumor can also help predict whether the cancer is likely to reoccur or metastasize.
Immunotherapy, or using the body’s immune system to recognize and kill tumors. Researchers at the Breast Cancer Program at Johns Hopkins Medicine are studying new therapies that may awaken the immune system's response to breast cancer cells. Scientists at Johns Hopkins are studying how cancer cells evade the immune system, and clinicians are conducting clinical trials to test new therapies aimed at the immune system. These include vaccines that may help immune system cells find breast cancer cells in the body and immunotherapy drugs that target molecules on breast cancer and immune cells.
· New Options for Stage 4 Breast Cancer Patients
While there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, newer targeted therapies that slow tumor growth without damaging normal cells, such as Trastuzumab deruxtecan, or Enhertu, have been making a difference in treatment outcomes. In a recent trial involving patients with HER2-low metastatic breast cancer, the medication was shown to slow tumor growth for about 10 months, compared with five months in those who received standard chemotherapy. Patients who received Trastuzumab deruxtecan survived for 23.4 months, compared with 16.8 months for women with the same mutation who received standard chemotherapy.
· Patients Are Living Longer
WebMD listed breast cancer among others, including prostate, thyroid, and melanoma, where there’s hope for recovery and remission, meaning being cancer-free five years after a diagnosis.
- Breast Cancer – Early-Stage
People alive 5 years after a diagnosis: early stages of 0 and 1 - 99% to 100%
Looking back, so much HAS been developed in the field of breast oncology, but so much more is still needed, especially around prevention. In the meantime, I will stick to the preventive and monitoring plan my doctor and I put together years ago, (my personalized plan includes MRIs, mammograms and 6-month checkups). I will continue to wear my pink, run in the local 5K, and support researchers in memory of my mother and honor of my aunt.