So What’s New In Breast Cancer?

The Conference got off to a great start, thanks to the insight and wisdom of the speakers from our opening panel on Saturday: Dr. Donald Berry, McGraw Memorial Chair for Cancer Research at the M.D. Anderson Center; Carolina Hinestrosa, vice president for programming and planning at NBCCF; Dr. Susan Love, President and Medical Director of the Susan Love Research Foundation; and Dr. Patricia Steeg, director of the Molecular Therapeutics Program, Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute.

Susan Love laid out the challenge of treating breast cancer with the statement that biology trumps stage. In other words, the more we understand about the biology of breast cancer, the better we can do in terms of identifying patients who will benefit from certain therapies, and who are unlikely to benefit from other therapies.  These advances are much more useful than the traditional categories of breast cancer such as stage and grade.


Pat Steeg’s remarks echoed that statement; she focused, in particular on PARP inhibitors.  What’s PARP? It’s a protein involved in DNA repair; to describe it much further gets into the weeds of molecular biology. Relevant to breast cancer, however, early research is suggesting that drugs that inhibit PARP have promise to benefit patients who have mutations in BRCA1 and 2.


A theme that came up repeatedly by both Don Berry and Carolina Hinestrosa was the importance of helping breast cancer patients better understand the risks and benefits of certain treatments.  This is an important issue for researchers; like antibiotics, for which specific drugs treat specific infectious diseases, so too should breast cancer treatments treat specific kinds of breast cancer that are defined by biology. Anthracycline chemotherapy drugs, such as adriamycin, are widely prescribed in 14 out of 16 different regimens, but based on recent research, it appears that they do not offer additional benefit over other regimens to most women, but are more toxic.  And as Carolina pointed out, it will be an uphill battle to change clinical practice.  Moderator, Abigail Trafford, directed the extremely large number of  audience questions to the panelists.  She summed up the session by remarking on what a fascinating “armchair” conversation had just taken place with over 600 participants!


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