Last month, at a party, a social acquaintance who knows my history with breast cancer, told me how happy she was that I didn’t have to worry about the disease anymore.
“What are you talking about?” I asked politely.
She replied that while at the hair dresser recently she had read a woman’s magazine that said breast cancer was as good as cured.
I told her that while I would like that to be true, as far as I knew, it wasn’t. And I attributed her misunderstanding to not really paying attention to what she was reading while having her hair styled and colored.
Then this week, I read a column in U.S. News and World Report titled “Closing in On a Cure” for breast cancer. Now I hate to bite the hand that fed me for 12 years (when I was a senior editor at U.S. News), but the column by former NIH chief Bernadine Healy falls pretty short of the headline.
The column heralds two advances in breast cancer. Don’t get me wrong, they are advances. But advances are not a cure. The first is a drug called Tykerb (link to something on our site that explains it), which helps women with the HER2/neu gene, and seems to stem brain metastases. And it gives the sickest patients four extra months before dying. It sounds like a great drug. However, 70 percent of women with breast cancer don’t have the HER2/neu gene. And four extra months before dying is far short of a cure, at least in my book.
The second advance Healy mentions are discoveries that target tumor-initiating stem cells, which could someday stop metastatic breast cancer’s spread. When used with drugs like Tykerb, and Herceptin, metastatic breast cancer could, someday, be controlled, and maybe even cured.
I hope that someday is soon. But in the meantime, I wish headline writers would stop hyping, and not call every new, promising advance “closing in on a cure.”
Share your thoughts about breast cancer research hype in the message boards.
Published On: October 20, 2006