A roundup of news from the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), the premier scientific symposium in the world for breast oncologists, breast cancer researchers, and associated healthcare professionals, held Dec. 5-8.
What do you call nearly 8,000 doctors, researchers, and other medical personnel, from over 100 countries, gathered in San Antonio for 4 days to hear 1200+ presentations centered around breast cancer?
SABCS – the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, whose mission is to “encompass the full spectrum of breast cancer research and facilitate the rapid transition of new knowledge into improved care for breast cancer patients.”
Most of the information coming out of SABCS is highly technical, and represents research that, in time, might produce significant advances in breast cancer treatment. But for the moment, much of the “news” at SABCS, while critically important to researchers, isn’t actionable for the typical breast cancer survivor.
I’ve culled through the various papers and press releases coming out of SABCS, which can be quite daunting. For instance, “Mechanism-based insights into prognosis and treatment of breast cancer derived from high resolution multiphoton imaging” isn’t something that the typical layperson would find instantly engaging.
Many presentations involved new drugs in clinical trials (often obvious PR pieces launched by the drug companies themselves). And many more covered ongoing research that’s interesting (e.g., DNA repair), but years away from becoming useful to the average oncologist and his/her patient.
The following represent topics from the 2012 SABCS that I think you’ll find interesting, and in some cases actionable as well.
HER2+ – a new method of identification
This sub-type of breast cancer, which affects about 20% of women diagnosed, is effectively treated with a combination of chemotherapy and Herceptin, a targeted therapy. Currently, patients are identified as being HER2+ via one of two tests, both of which measure “gene amplification” – the presence of too many of a certain set of genes.
Now it appears that not just gene amplification, but gene mutation may signal the presence of HER2+ breast cancer. Researchers used DNA sequencing to identify women who had HER2+ breast cancer that hadn’t been detected by standard tests. Had these women and their doctors known their cancer was HER2+, they would have received Herceptin, and thus lessened their risk of recurrence.
What will this new information mean to women currently being diagnosed with breast cancer?
Nothing, at the moment; more study is needed before researchers can identify the exact pattern of gene mutations that signal a woman will respond well to Herceptin. But it’s another step in the direction of ultra-personalized treatment – where your individual DNA will be used to identify the cancer treatment that’s best for YOU, rather than what’s best for the average woman with a similar diagnosis.