Eric Winer, M.D., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and faculty member of the Harvard Medical School, summarized the findings of about a dozen presentations from the 32nd annual symposium held December 9-13, 2009. The San Antonio Symposium is the largest annual international gathering of breast cancer researchers, and the LifeBridge Health clinicians were excited to participate in this informational and Q&A session on the most cutting-edge research in their field. The cancer conference is sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research, Baylor College of Medicine and the UT Health Science Center.
Dr. Winer said that although the past year didn’t provide a striking number of breakthroughs for cancer treatment, the information shared at the symposium is expected to inform research and clinical trials for the next few years. For example, one example of results presented at the conference was a recent Duke University study of 300 patients. It showed that women with advanced breast cancer who receive a combination of Herceptin and Tykerb lived close to five months longer than those only given Tykerb. The combination of the two drugs focus on a protein called HER-2 that appears in large quantities in about a fourth of all breast cancers. Cases with the HER-2 protein tend to be more aggressive, but Herceptin and Tykerb work in tandem, with Tykerb going after HER2 and the receptor and Herceptin taking on the ER2 protein.
Dr. Winer said that the future of breast cancer treatment lies in the development of targeted biologic therapies, drugs that are used alongside chemotherapy and are delivered directly to cancer cells. Because these drugs can zero in on cancer cells, they are less toxic to patients.
However, each patient’s biological makeup is different. Therefore, research is constantly being performed to determine which breast cancer treatments work, in what situations they work, and in what combination they work best to shrink tumors and produce minimal side effects.
Dr. Winer concluded that it’s “inevitable that therapy will become personalized,” which is good news for future patients. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer, with around 40,000 women dying annually from breast cancer. However, when breast cancer is detected early at stage 0 or stage 1, survival rates are at 98 percent.