In April 1998 my oncologist explained the treatment he planned for my newly diagnosed inflammatory breast cancer: Adriamycin/Cytoxin, surgery, radiation. In June 1998, my doctor changed the treatment plan; I would also have Taxol. I admit to being a little perturbed by this change. Why couldn't my doctor make up his mind? Did he really know what he was doing?
Now that I've been hanging around in the cancer community for a while, I realize what happened. He went to the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) convention or read the research reports coming out of it. To check out my theory, I looked up the papers presented at ASCO in June 1998 and found one about the successful use of Taxol in inflammatory breast cancer patients.
My doctor wasn't wishy-washy. He was staying up with the latest research. Every June oncologists gather to hear the latest research reports and have an opportunity for shop talk with their colleagues. Exhibit halls have booths with the latest products, and patient advocate groups like the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation share information with the professionals and lay folks gathered to learn more about cancer.
Here is some of the latest research from this year's convention that will interest breast cancer patients. I'm including just the headlines and briefest summaries, so click on the links for the topics that interest you. The patient section of the ASCO website is very readable for non-medical people.
For women with early stage breast cancer, removing more lymph nodes may not increase survival. Women in this study had lumpectomies, radiation, and a sentinel node biopsy. If the sentinel node biopsy showed cancer, some of the women had more nodes removed, and some did not. Removing more nodes did not increase five year survival rates.
Tumor features may change if the cancer metastasizes. If your cancer metastasizes, this study indicates that you may need to have it rechecked for ER, PR, and Her2 status. You might find out that you are eligible for a treatment that would not have worked on your original tumor.
Older women with ER positive tumors may not need radiation. In this study of women over age 70 with ER positive Stage I breast cancer, some women received just Tamoxifen while others received Tamoxifen and radiation. The researchers found no difference in the ten-year survival rate.
A new drug called Eribulin has extended survival time in patients with metastatic breast cancer during Stage III trials. For Stage IV patients, this adds another drug to their doctor's arsenal, and if it follows the pattern of other drugs originally prescribed just to metastatic patients, Eribulin may eventually be available for earlier stage cancers.
ASCO and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working to make it easier for oncologists to prescribe investigational drugs. A new program is cutting out some of the paperwork required for prescription of investigational drugs, which may make it easier for your oncologist to try a new drug on you.