Research Roundup: Breast Cancer in the News

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Breast cancer research is constantly providing health-care professionals with new data on which to base treatment and prevention recommendations. Here’s this month’s news, and how it might affect you.


    Obesity in pre-menopausal women increases breast cancer death risk

    Younger women, those who haven’t yet gone through menopause, are 34% more likely to die from the most common form of breast cancer if they're obese, according to a study due to be released at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) May 30, in Chicago.


    About two-thirds of women diagnosed with breast cancer have cancer that’s hormone-receptive; the cancer cells grow when “fed” with two female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. 

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    These hormones are present in body fat; the more fat a woman carries, the more her circulating hormones. And it’s this higher level of hormones that increases an obese woman’s chance of dying from her breast cancer diagnosis.


    Obese pre-menopausal women diagnosed with ER-negative disease – cancer that doesn’t require hormones to grow – are not at increased risk of dying from breast cancer. And surprisingly, the same is true of obese post-menopausal women: their risk of dying from breast cancer isn’t any greater than that of normal-weight women.


    How do you know if you’re obese, vs. simply overweight? Here are the National Institute of Health’s guidelines, based on body mass index (BMI): 

    Normal weight: BMI under 25

    Overweight: BMI 25-29.9

    Obese: BMI 30+


    Don’t know your BMI? It’s simple to find out. Simply plug your height and weight into this BMI calculator


    Black women more likely to be diagnosed with dangerous triple-negative breast cancer

    Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), which is characterized by its aggressive growth, doesn’t depend on hormones (estrogen and progesterone) to grow. As such, there are fewer ways to treat it; while women with hormone-receptive breast cancer can undergo up to 10 years of hormone therapy to help reduce their risk of recurrence, women with TNBC have to rely strictly on chemotherapy, with no longer-term treatment options.


    A new study, published online in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, offers data showing that black women are 80% more likely than non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with TNBC. Furthermore, this disparity isn’t related to socioeconomic status; the same percentage holds true across all socioeconomic groups.


    Another study result points to Asian women and Pacific Islanders being more likely than their white sisters to be diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer which, like TNBC, is an aggressive and fast-growing cancer.


    We all need to be aware of possible signs of breast cancer – specifically, a new lump; and unexplained redness and swelling. If you’re black or Asian, ignoring worrisome breast symptoms can be even more dangerous than you think. 


    New ASCO treatment guidelines for women with advanced HER2+ breast cancer

  • HER2+ breast cancer is a sub-type of cancer that’s more aggressive and faster-growing than more common diagnoses. About 15% to 25% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer have this type. 

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    ASCO, the governing body for cancer treatment best practices, has just released new drug guidelines for women with advanced HER2+ breast cancer (breast cancer that’s metastasized, or spread), as follows:


    First-line treatment, for women with a recurrence longer than 12 months after initial treatment:

    •Trastuzumab (Herceptin) accompanied by a regimen of pertuzumab (Perjeta) and a taxane (Taxol, Taxotere). Women with congestive heart failure or other serious heart issues should discuss taking Herceptin with their doctor, as it may be dangerous.


    Second-line treatment, for women with a recurrence 12 months or less after starting treatment:

    •TDM-1 (Kadcyla).


    Third-line treatment, for women with a second recurrence:

    •Kadcyla, if they haven’t already received it;

    •Perjeta, if they haven’t already received it.


    Third-line treatment, for women with a second recurrence who’ve already received Kadcyla and/or Perjeta:

    •Laptinib (Tykerb) and capecitabine (Xeloda); or

    •Tykerb and Herceptin.


    If you’re a woman battling HER2+, why is it important to have this information? Because oncologists are busy, and often overworked; they may not be able to keep up with ever-changing drug guidelines. It’s up to you, as an empowered patient, to know the most recent treatment guidelines for your particular cancer.




    Barclay, L. (2014, May 7). New ASCO Guidelines Address HER2-Positive Breast Cancer. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from


    Ostrow, N. (2014, May 15). Obesity Raises Breast Cancer Death Risk in Pre-Menopausal Women. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from


    Tough-to-Treat Breast Cancer Nearly Twice as Common in Black Women: Study. (2014, May 16). Consumer HealthDay. Retrieved May 17, 2014, from

Published On: May 21, 2014