The survival rates for women diagnosed with breast cancer have significantly increased, thanks to many medical advances implemented over the last ten years. More effective therapies are resulting in far less side effects than traditional procedures. An increase in understanding both risk and preventive measures, have all given women the necessary tools to take preventative action against breast cancer. Start reading now to learn about the major advancements in breast cancer treatment everyone should know about.
Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) is a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells. Recent treatments directed at HER2 have been shown to play a vital role in breast cancer survival.
Not all breast cancers are bombarded with the protein, and those that are can be adequately treated with specific drugs that target it. HER2-directed therapies have completely revolutionized treatment options, as these drugs can be utilized for both early and late stage breast cancer and can assist in reducing recurrence risk in the early stages of the disease.
Gene Expression Testing
Assays, which are tests to uncover the types of genes that cancer expresses, have permitted healthcare physicians to craft effective therapies based on a person’s individual needs. Breast cancer specialists are utilizing two assays, Oncotype DX® and MammaPrint®, to better determine a woman’s risk of any recurrence or metastasis (the spread) based upon varying genes cancer expresses, through a process called gene subtyping.
From here, they can better plan treatments to reduce these risks effectively. These tests can also assist in finding out who is more likely to benefit from treatments with chemotherapy in addition to hormone therapy.
Less Aggressive Chemo
Super aggressive chemotherapy, when combined with a drug called trastuzumab, can work effectively in curing one early stage, yet highly aggressive, form of breast cancer, called lymph node negative HER2+ breast cancer.
This type of breast cancer affects approximately fifteen to twenty percent of all breast cancer patients. Researchers are now finding a less aggressive chemotherapy drug called taxol, when combined with trastuzumab, is just as effective in helping ward off breast cancer recurrences and even death following a three-year duration. The major difference is the impact on the patient, since they seem to struggle less with the less aggressive form of chemotherapy.
Bone Strengthening Medications
Breast cancer will most commonly move to the bones, and research has debated whether or not bone-strengthening medications, which are called bisphosphonates and are developed to treat osteoporosis, can help prevent this. A recent meta-analysis of these debates has confirmed osteoporosis medications can lower breast cancer recurrence in bones and lower death rates in postmenopausal women. The medications also have the added benefit of reducing bone fractures.
These results were all in middle-aged or older women who were candidates for bisphosphonate medication. Younger women with breast cancer are advised to talk to their doctors regarding available options. As with numerous medications, bisphosphonates can have serious side effects, such as osteonecrosis of the jaw, where the gum recedes and the jaw bone becomes exposed to air.
Triple-negative breast cancer, a type that accounts for ten to twenty percent of all breast cancers, is much more aggressive and also more likely to affect young women, black and latino women, and women with the BRCA1 gene mutation. These tumors do not have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, or the HER2 growth factor, which means three forms of targeted treatment are not an option.
Only radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy can be used to combat against this form of tumor, often with very little effect, as it is highly likely to come back and spread. Immunotherapy medication can activate a person’s immune system against the tumor, and though further research is needed, could one day prove to be a promising therapy against triple negative breast cancer.