Breast Cancer Overview

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What`s New in Breast Cancer Research? TOPICS

What`s new in breast cancer research?

Research into the causes, prevention, and treatment of breast cancer is being done in many medical centers throughout the world.

Causes of breast cancer

Studies continue to find lifestyle factors and habits that alter breast cancer risk. Some studies are looking at the effect of exercise, weight gain or loss, and diet on breast cancer risk. We are also learning more about how genes influence breast cancer. This should happen more quickly now that the human genome has been mapped out.

New lab tests

Tumor cells in the blood

Researchers have found that in many women with breast cancer, cells may break away from the tumor and enter the blood. These tumor cells can be found with sensitive lab tests. While these tests are available for general use, it is not yet clear how helpful they are for patients with breast cancer


Radiation treatment

For women who need radiation after breast-conserving surgery, newer methods are being studied to see if they work as well as standard treatments in keeping breast cancer from coming back. They can make it easier to get treatment since the treatment can be done on in a shorter time.

New chemotherapy drugs

Because advanced breast cancers are often hard to treat, researchers are looking for newer, better drugs. A drug class has been developed that targets cancers caused by BRCA mutations. This class of drugs is called PARP inhibitors and they have shown promise in clinical trials treating breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers that had spread and were resistant to other treatments. Further studies are being done to see if this drug can help patients without BRCA mutations.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies are a group of newer drugs that take advantage of gene changes in cells that cause cancer.

Drugs that target HER2: A number of drugs are approved to target excess HER2 protein. Studies are being done to see how best to use these in treating early breast cancer. Other drugs that target the HER2 protein are being tested in clinical trials. Researchers are also looking at using a vaccine to target the HER2 protein.

Anti-angiogenesis drugs: For cancers to grow, blood vessels must be made to feed the cancer cells. Some studies have found that breast cancers with many new, small blood vessels are likely to spread more quickly. Bevacizumab (Avastin®) is an example of anti-angiogenesis drug. Although bevacizumab does not seem to be very helpful in the treatment of breast cancer, clinical trials are currently testing several other anti-angiogenesis drugs.

New drugs are being made that may be useful in stopping breast cancer growth by keeping new blood vessels from forming. Some of these drugs are now being tested in clinical trials.

Other targeted drugs: Everolimus (Afinitor) is a targeted therapy drug that seems to help hormone therapy drugs work better. It is approved to be given with one certain hormone therapy drug to treat advanced hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in women who have gone through menopause. It has also been studied with other hormone therapy drugs and for treatment of earlier stage breast cancer.

Other possible targets for new breast cancer drugs have been identified in recent years. Drugs based on these targets are now being studied, but most are still in the early stages of clinical trials.

Vitamin D

A study found that women with early-stage breast cancer who had low levels of vitamin D were more likely to have their cancer come back in a distant part of the body and had a poorer outlook. More research is needed to confirm this finding, and it is not yet clear if taking vitamin D supplements would be helpful. Still, you might want to talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin D level to see if it is in the healthy range.

Last Medical Review: 09/17/2013
Last Revised: 01/31/2014