What are the most promising developments
in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer?
Jessica Morton, MPH, CHES
Director of Mission, Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey
Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits. In addition to lifestyle changes, research is identifying
new medications that can reduce the risk of breast cancer among those at high risk. Susan G. Komenfunded researchers are working to understand how lifestyle changes such as exercise and weight
management can help prevent breast cancer, and are also testing dietary components that may prevent
breast cancer including vitamin D, fish oil, and flaxseed. Researchers are also working to determine
whether a pregnancy hormone called hCG can make breast cells less susceptible to becoming
cancerous, particularly in women at high risk.
We know that breast cancer varies greatly from person to person, and therefore, breast cancer therapy is
not a one-size-fits-all approach. Personalized medicine refers to the tailoring of medical treatment to the
individual characteristics of each patient. Personalized medicine is an important part of efforts to optimize
outcomes for cancer patients. Biological and genomic studies show that breast cancer is not a single
disease, but rather a complex set of different cancers with distinct causes. Finding individual differences
in tumors is key to treating each patient with the right medicine at the right time.
Dr. Aleix Prat is a pioneer in the field of personalized medicine. Dr. Prat’s Komen-funded project focuses
on HER2-positive breast cancer, which is a very aggressive type of cancer that accounts for 15-20
percent of all diagnosed cases. Dr. Prat’s research has shown that HER2-positive breast cancer can be
classified as four different subtypes of breast cancer. This sub-classification can help predict response to
chemotherapy and anti-HER2 treatment. While this type of tumor profiling requires additional investigation
before it becomes a clinical standard, the implications of this work are promising. It means that physicians
and oncologists will have access to essential information for determining the benefits of treatment, as well
as a better understanding of the risks of breast cancer relapse. Oncologists will be able to better advise
their patients about which therapy may be the most beneficial for their individual breast cancer.
Komen-funded researchers have been working for nearly 20 years on the development, improvement,
and clinical testing of vaccines that will both treat and prevent breast cancer. The latest Komen-funded
research coming out of Washington University in St. Louis indicates the development of a vaccine on the
horizon, which would first and foremost help women who have already had breast cancer by preventing
tumors from recurring.
Most breast cancer deaths are a result of metastasis. Metastatic breast cancer is an advanced stage of
breast cancer where tumor cells have spread to other parts of the body. Treatment for metastatic breast
cancer is not effective for everyone, in part, because we do not know what causes cancer cells to spread.
Komen researchers are working to identify the genes and processes that cause breast cancer cells to
metastasize, developing and testing new therapies to both prevent and treat metastatic breast cancer,
and discovering new methods for predicting or detecting metastasis using urine or blood tests or body
scans.
Since its founding in 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded over $847 million in research grants, and
currently supports nearly 500 active research grants totaling more than $300 million.
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What are the most promising developments in the prevention and