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Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Research Update

Breast Cancer graph

National Cancer Institute
Chances of Developing Breast Cancer by Age 70
Specific inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 genes increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Testing for these mutations is usually recommended in women without breast cancer only when the person's individual or family history suggests the possible presence of a harmful mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2. Testing is often recommended in younger women newly diagnosed with breast cancer because it can influence treatment decisions and have implications for their family members.
Mutated BRCA1: 55-65%
Mutated BRCA3: 45%
Normal BRCA: 12% Opens new window

Extended Drug Therapy Benefits Some Women with Breast Cancer

Results from a recent clinical trial showed that extending adjuvant therapy with an aromatase inhibitor up to 10 years after initial treatment can benefit postmenopausal women with early-stage hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. The longer treatment improved five-year disease-free survival and decreased the women's risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast.

Tamoxifen, which blocks the activity of the hormone estrogen, has been the adjuvant therapy drug of choice for preventing breast cancer recurrence since the 1980s. It is still used by many clinicians, often in combination, or sequentially, with aromatase inhibitors.

Tailoring treatment to individual patients will be important, according to Jo Anne Zujewski, MD, of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis. Dr. Zujewski says clinicians need to talk with their patients about the risks of side effects with aromatase inhibitors, namely bone-related effects such as fractures, and appropriately manage them in women taking these drugs.

The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2016 and presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.

Vitamin D Deficiency May Promote Spread of Some Breast Cancers

A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with tumor progression and metastasis in breast cancer, a recent study suggests.

The study, primarily using cell lines and mice, identified an association between vitamin D levels and the expression of ID1, an oncogene that has been associated with tumor growth and metastasis in breast and other cancer types.

Vitamin D, which is obtained from food and supplements or produced by the body in response to sun exposure, is converted into the hormone calcitriol in several different body tissues, including breast tissue. Calcitriol, in turn, binds to the vitamin D receptor, which regulates some genes associated with cancer.

Stanley Lipkowitz, MD, PhD, Chief of the Women's Malignancies Branch in NCI's Center for Cancer Research, said the study's findings were "provocative," but that there are still important questions. Further work is needed, he said, to more definitively show the findings are generalizable to humans.

The study findings were published in the journal Endocrinology in March 2016.

BRCA Testing Rates High in Young Women with Breast Cancer

Testing for genetic mutations strongly associated with an increased breast cancer risk has risen dramatically among women younger than age 40 who are diagnosed with the disease, according to a recent study.

Overall, within a year of their diagnosis, 87 percent of the women in the Young Women's Breast Cancer Study were tested for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in either of these genes increase a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer, her risk of developing breast cancer at a younger age, and her lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.

The percentage of women who underwent testing gradually increased over the seven-year study period, from approximately 77 percent of those diagnosed in 2006 to nearly all women in 2013.

The research findings were reported in JAMA Oncology in February 2016.

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Read More "Breast Cancer" Articles

Beating Breast Cancer / Addressing Breast Cancer's Unequal Burden / Breast Cancer Research Update

Winter 2017 Issue: Volume 11 Number 4 Page 17