The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) has been held at the beginning of December for the past 35 years, and each year provides valuable information on how to better diagnose, treat and continue to treat breast cancer patients and survivors.
The symposium is designed to provide state-of-the-art information on the experimental biology, etiology, prevention, diagnosis and therapy of breast cancer and premalignant breast disease to an international audience of academic and private physicians and researchers. Breast cancer survivors and advocates like you and me – laypeople who are interested in the most current findings – also attend the symposium.
This year, from what I’ve read and what I’ve heard from Dr. Grace Wang from Advanced Medical Specialties, the most important finding was for premenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer who are taking tamoxifen. According to the ATLAS trial, it’s better to take tamoxifen for 10 years than for just five. How great is that?
The ATLAS trial included nearly 7,000 women with early-stage, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer between 1996 and 2005. After taking tamoxifen for five years, participants were randomly assigned to continue taking tamoxifen for another five years or stop taking it. The findings were that the women who stayed on tamoxifen for the additional five years were less likely to have a recurrence or die of breast cancer than were the women who had been on the placebo.
Dr. Wang also said another finding that was interesting but will not change current treatment protocol is that two years of Herceptin proved to be no better – and more toxic – than one year of Herceptin, the current standard treatment for HER2+ breast cancer. Also, six months of Herceptin is not as good as one year. One year appears to be the magic number.
Herceptin is used to fight HER2+ breast cancer, which affects approximately one in four patients. HER2+ breast cancer cells have more HER2 receptors (a particular protein found on the surface of cells) than normal breast cells. Having too many HER2 receptors may make the cancer cells grow and divide faster, creating more HER2+ cancer cells. HER2+ breast cancer is considered aggressive because it grows and spreads quickly.
The results of a 10-year follow-up of the United Kingdom Start Breast Radiotherapy Trial showed that there were fewer side effects and similar effectiveness in the three-week versus the five-week treatment arm. Women may be able to be treated with fewer weeks of therapy.
The importance of these findings is game-changing because, according to Dr. Wang, “It changes the way we treat patients.”
Obviously, there was enough evidence to support the change in treatment, which is exactly why we need to continue to raise money for breast cancer research. What you learn at breast cancer conferences like SABCS each year improves cancer treatment, survival and quality of life issues for many of us who are cancer survivors. If you can arrange to attend one of these conferences, I know you will find it is very worth your while.
Muriel, the editor, five-year survivor
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