During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we recognize the scientists working to find innovative detection and treatment options for the one in eight women who will develop this pervasive disease. This has been a banner year for breast cancer research, with scientists making noteworthy progress in understanding the breast cancer risk factors, as well as developing new lab and imaging tests.
This year, researchers made great strides in understanding how genes impact the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer. Though Angelina Jolie made the BRCA1 gene famous with her 2013 double mastectomy, there are several other gene variances that can help determine if a woman is predisposed to the disease. ATM, CDH1, NBN and dozens of other genes are in various stages of testing. Scientists are looking at the ways that these genes repair DNA, make proteins, regulate cell growth and could even help deter cancer growth.
New tests have been developed to more accurately detect breast cancer – including a test that can detect when cells break away from the developing tumor and enter the bloodstream. This test can help confirm a diagnosis faster, resulting in a higher chance of recovery. Other studies are testing whether these cells can be removed and evaluated.
Additionally, a new imaging test called scintimammography helps doctors see clearly through dense tissue to find hiding cancers. The technique uses a small amount of a slightly radioactive drug, which is injected into the veins and then observed through a camera. This type of testing allows doctors to detect cancer earlier and patients to get the treatment they need as soon as possible.
Although there is not yet a cure for breast cancer, many new treatments show great potential. New methods of evaluating who will benefit from chemotherapy are being developed, expanding treatment options for patients before they begin the painful chemo process. Drugs like kinase-inhibitors and immunotherapy are now being tested on triple-negative breast cancers with varying results. Finally, targeted therapies are being used to attack genetic changes in cancer cells that make the genes mutate, grow and spread. Studies have shown these drugs to be particularly effective against BRCA-positive breast cancer. With medical advancements continuing into 2018, there are many reasons to hope for more positive patient outcomes.
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