Even though statistics show 1 in 8 U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, there is hope on the horizon. Overall, survival rates continue to rise and women are living longer after beating the disease. In order to keep this momentum, however, which can lead to improved care and better outcomes, it’s necessary to continue advancing our understanding of the disease through research.
Breast cancer research opens the door to finding better ways to prevent, detect, and treat breast cancer, and to improve the quality of life of both cancer patients and survivors. From studying causes and prevention to learning how to manage and treat, here are some of the main focuses in breast cancer research today.
Researching the Causes of Breast Cancer
Cancer researchers are actively studying what causes breast cancer. Studies continue to uncover cancer-contributing factors such as lifestyle habits as well as inherited genes that may increase the risk of breast cancer. Here are some examples of ongoing studies:
- Research into how exercise, diet, and body weight gain or loss affect breast cancer risk
- Studies on how to best use genetic testing to detect gene mutations that lead to breast cancer
- Exploration on how common gene variations (small changes in genes that are not as significant as mutations) may affect breast cancer risk
- A look into environmental factors that can cause breast cancer
Research on how to Lower the Risk of Developing Breast Cancer
Researchers are actively looking for medicines that may help lower the risk of breast cancer:
- Hormone therapy drugs, which are typically used to help treat breast cancer, are being researched to determine if some may also help prevent it
- Non-hormonal drugs for breast cancer reduction are being evaluated through clinical trials
- Exploration into drugs that may prevent breast cancer from coming back or spreading to the bones
Research on Ways to Manage Ductal Carcinoma in Situ
The behavior of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) is unpredictable. Ductal Carcinoma in Situ refers to a condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lining of a breast duct. DCIS is considered non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer, meaning these cells are contained within the ducts (in situ) and have not spread outside the breast. However, without additional treatment after surgery, these cells can become invasive, spreading to lymph nodes or other organs. Because of this unpredictability, determining the best method of treatment is challenging.
Researchers are continuously studying ways to use computers and statistical methods to estimate the chances that the DCIS will become invasive. They also ask women diagnosed with DCIS what factors (such as survival rates, recurrence prevention, and side effects) they consider most important in choosing a treatment. Most women with DCIS are candidates for lumpectomy. However, certain factors may make mastectomy a better option.
Breast Cancer Treatment Research
One major use for cancer research is finding new treatments or combinations of treatments that will work more effectively for specific types of breast cancer. Some research involves new combinations of treatments that are already considered the standard of care, while other research involves newer surgical techniques or drugs. This is the most common type of cancer research currently underway.
For example, one type of breast cancer that has been difficult to treat is triple negative breast cancer. However, recent clinical studies show that this aggressive cancer may be caused by a mutation in the BRCA gene.
Currently, testing for BRCA gene mutation is not routine for women diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Because of these findings, however, researchers are suggesting that they should be, since those who test positive may benefit from this new treatment. Knowing if the BRCA gene is involved opens up different treatment options than what would typically be given for triple negative breast cancer. The study, funded by Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Now, showed that triple negative breast cancers carrying the mutated BRCA gene showed a greater response to carboplatin (Paraplatin) rather than the standard chemotherapy given to triple negative patients.
Interested in Participating in a Breast Cancer Clinical Trial?
Arizona Oncology is dedicated to advancing breast cancer care by leading and participating in clinical trials that test the safety and efficiency of new or modified treatments. If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, please call to make an appointment for a consultation. You can also browse through the breast cancer clinical trials in Phoenix and surrounding areas.