Top Breast Cancer Headlines for 2007

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • What’s the most significant breast cancer news to make headlines during the year just past? Here’s my totally opinionated, unscientific list of 2007 's Top-10 Breast Cancer Milestones:

     

    Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, this grassroots breast cancer advocacy organization marked the milestone by working to become ever more visible in the media, while stepping up its work on both the national and international levels.


    • Komen earned press coverage with edgy new print ads, launched last spring. “If you’re going to stare at my breasts… you could at least donate a dollar to save them.” This is NOT your mother’s foundation.

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    • Komen passed the $1 billion fundraising mark in its 25th year; and pledged to raise another $1 billion in the next 10 years. It’s second only to the federal government in generating breast cancer research and advocacy funding.

     

    • In this Presidential election year, Komen has organized “Close the Gap: The Komen Community Challenge Tour,” a 24-city tour challenging all Presidential candidates to “support three achievable goals that will help save lives and help end breast cancer forever:” research, screening, and treatment. In addition, “I Vote for the Cure™” is Komen’s campaign to educate voters and challenge the Presidential candidates to make breast cancer a priority.

     

    • In addition, Komen organized and sponsored the Global Breast Cancer Advocate Summit, held in September in Budapest, Hungary. This historic summit paired 25 U.S. breast cancer advocates with advocates from more than 25 countries; First Lady Laura Bush was the event’s honorary co-chair.

     

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    Black women and breast cancer: The special issues that affect young black women with breast cancer are getting more attention. Last January, researchers discovered a protein marker that may someday lead to screening tests for basal epithelial breast cancer, a very aggressive, fast-acting, difficult-to-treat cancer that’s especially prevalent in pre-menopausal black women. And results of a study released in December showed that black women under age 35 have an elevated incidence of mutations in the BRCA1 gene; again, this new information could result in wider screening and better prevention of breast cancer in black women.

     

    Read related news on breast cancer and black women:

     

    Hormone therapy: Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors (Arimidex, Femara, and Aromasin) were in the news regularly. Up-to-the-minute information indicates that AIs (5 years or more) are most effective at preventing recurrence in post-menopausal women with hormone-receptive cancer. And 5 years of tamoxifen is still the standard for pre-menopausal, hormone-receptive women; though results of a study released in December may up the duration of treatment to 10 years.

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    FDA shoots down Avastin: Avastin has been FDA-approved for lung cancer and colorectal cancer, and is being tested in over 300 clinical trials worldwide for more than 20 types of tumors. It’s a cutting-edge drug known as an antiangiogenesis medication: it works by cutting off the blood supply to cancer cells, thus starving tumors. In breast cancer clinical trials, when combined with Taxol, it’s been shown to improve survival times in women with advanced breast cancer by 50%. Based on the success of those trials, Genentech submitted Avastin to the FDA for approval August 24; unfortunately, on Dec. 5 the FDA refused to approve it, citing too many side effects.

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    Celebrity cancer: Two well-known women revealed their cancer diagnoses this year. While I wouldn’t wish breast cancer on anyone, “celebrity cancer” helps elevate societal awareness of this devastating disease.


    Elizabeth Edwards, Presidential candidate John Edwards’ wife, announced her stage IV recurrence on March 22. She hasn’t let it slow her down; she’s continued with a full schedule of campaign appearances in conjunction with her husband’s run for the Democratic Presidential nomination. And chemo appears to be working, as her tumors haven’t advanced.

     

    Check out our breast cancer community's special section on Elizabeth Edwards:

     

    Meanwhile, ABC-TV “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts revealed her cancer diagnosis on national TV in July. She underwent surgery, started chemo in late September, and will finish with a round of radiation.

     

     

    The New York Times “recognizes” chemo brain: At last! In an April 29 article headlined “Chemotherapy Fog Is No Longer Ignored as Illusion,” the Times noted that “…attitudes are changing as a result of a flurry of research and new attention to the after-effects of life-saving treatment. There is now widespread acknowledgment that patients with cognitive symptoms are not imagining things, and a growing number of oncologists are rushing to offer remedies…” No, it’s NOT “all in our head;” thanks to the Times for helping to spread the word.

     

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    Breast density as risk factor: This little-known breast cancer risk factor has continued to creep up the American Cancer Society’s annual list. This year, it checks in at #6, trailing only the following long-time top 5: being female; getting older; carrying the BRCA1 or BRAC2 genes; having a strong family history of breast cancer; and having already had breast cancer. It’s ahead of such risk factors as hormone replacement therapy; “pre-cancer” (atypical hyperplasia) in the breast; being overweight; and consuming alcohol.

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    The survivorship movement: Spurred by ASCO (the American Society of Clinical Oncology), there was a surge this year in time, energy, and money being spent on survivorship issues. With 2 million (and growing) breast cancer survivors out there, we need help with navigating the confusing, sometimes frustrating, often painful, and always challenging months and years after active treatment ends. Life is different after breast cancer; it’s good to acknowledge and deal with that fact.

     

     

    Screening for breast cancer: Mammogram vs. MRI. Last spring, the American Cancer Society issued new guidelines for breast cancer screening, noting that women in certain risk groups should be screened via MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), as well as mammography. Risk groups cited include women 30 and older with a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes; women who received radiation therapy for Hodgkins’ disease between the ages of 12 and 18; and women with a strong family history of breast cancer. In addition, a National Institute of Cancer study released March 29 indicates that women who’ve been diagnosed with cancer in one breast should have an MRI in the other, as MRI can detect very early cancers that can’t be seen on a mammogram. Bottom line: If you fall into one of the above groups, ask your oncologist about getting a screening MRI, in addition to your yearly mammogram.

     

    Looking for more on breast MRI? Also read:

     

    Digital Mammography and Breast MRI: What's Newer and Better Out There?

     

    Breast MRI and the New American Cancer Society Guidelines for Breast Cancer Detection 

     

     

    Oncotype DX and Tykerb: Making the chemo decision (Do I really need it?) got easier with a new test called Oncotype DX, which made big strides this year toward becoming widely available. The test is for women with early-stage, node-negative, estrogen-receptive breast cancer–a status group where the chemo decision can be a tough call. As a result of the test, women are assigned a recurrence risk of low, medium, or high, giving them guidance as they make their decision. Clinical trials are proving these recurrence risks quite accurate.

     

    Beyond Herceptin: For the one-third of women with invasive breast cancer who are HER-2 positive, the drug Herceptin has been the only treatment option when their cancer metastasizes–and Herceptin often loses its effectiveness with time. As of March 13, the FDA approved a new drug, lapatinib (Tykerb), that takes up where Herceptin leaves off. When used in combination with capectabine (Xeloda), Tykerb slows the growth of tumors, tumors that have stopped responding to Herceptin. For the 8,000 to 10,000 women who die each year after Herceptin ceases to work, this is good news indeed.

Published On: December 31, 2007