What’s New in Breast Cancer Research?

Research is constantly being done to improve our knowledge of breast cancer so that we may develop the best possible treatment and prevention strategies.  Some recent research areas are shared below.

Causes of Breast Cancer

Studies continue to find lifestyle factors and habits that alter breast cancer risk. Some studies are looking at the effect of exercise, weight gain or loss, and diet on breast cancer risk. We are also learning more about how genes influence breast cancer. This should happen more quickly now that the human genome has been mapped out.

Chemotherapy Drugs

Because advanced breast cancers are often hard to treat, researchers are looking for newer, better drugs. A drug class has been developed that targets cancers caused by BRCA mutations. This class of drugs is called PARP inhibitors and they have shown promise in clinical trials treating breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers that had spread and were resistant to other treatments. Further studies are being done to see if this drug can help patients without BRCA mutations.

Targeted Therapies

  • Drugs that target the HER2 protein (a protein commonly associated with breast cancer)
    • A number of drugs are approved to target excess HER2 protein. Studies are being done to see how best to use these in treating early breast cancer. Other drugs that target the HER2 protein are being tested in clinical trials. Researchers are also looking at using a vaccine to target the HER2 protein.
  • Anti-angiogenesis drugs
    • For cancers to grow, blood vessels must be made to feed the cancer cells. New drugs are being made that may be useful in stopping breast cancer growth by keeping new blood vessels from forming. Some of these drugs are now being tested in clinical trials.
  • Other targeted drugs
    • Everolimus (Afinitor) is a targeted therapy drug that seems to help hormone therapy drugs work better. It is approved to be given with one certain hormone therapy drug to treat advanced hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in women who have gone through menopause. It has also been studied with other hormone therapy drugs and for treatment of earlier stage breast cancer.Other possible targets for new breast cancer drugs have been identified in recent years. Drugs based on these targets are now being studied, but most are still in the early stages of clinical trials.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done with patients who volunteer for them. They are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures.

If a breast cancer patient would like to take part in a clinical trial, they can start by asking their doctor if their clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. They can also call our clinical trials matching service for a list of clinical trials that meet your medical needs. They can reach this service at 1-800-303-5691 or on our website at http://www.cancer.org/clinicaltrials. They can also get a list of current clinical trials by calling the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or by visiting the NCI clinical trials website atwww.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials.

Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the only way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.  All medical decisions in regard to treatment should be carefully made between a patient and their physician.

Breast Cancer – Support for Caregivers

10 Tips for Family Caregivers


A new diagnosis of cancer not only affects the patient, but can significantly affect close friends and family as well.  Many times, these close loved ones will be asked to serve in the role as caregiver to the patient who is fighting cancer. Caring for someone who is sick, taking on new responsibilities, and worrying about the future can be exhausting at the very least.  It is important to remember that caregivers who take care of their own needs and get the information, help, and support they need are better prepared to take care of their loved ones.

There are many resources available to caregivers and/or family members of patients who have cancer.  All of the below organizations and foundations have information and resources specifically to help caregivers.

  • The American Cancer Society
  • The National Cancer Institute
  • CancerCare 
  • Cancer Support Community
  • Family Caregiver Alliance
  • Caregiver Action Network

Truth or Myth?

Think you know fact versus fiction?  Check out these breast cancer truths and myths from the National Breast Cancer Coalition!

Truth – Breast Cancer mortality rates are declining


Myth – Most women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease


Truth – Risk of breast cancer increases with age; 50% of breast cancers occur in women older than 62 years


Myth – All breast cancers are the same


Truth – Hormone Replacement Therapy increases your risk for developing breast cancer



Breast Cancer – How Can I Help?

There are many ways you can support those affected by breast cancer.  Your support will help to provide mammograms and education to women in need, increase breast cancer research, and increase breast cancer awareness. There are a number of local and national organizations out there that will help you contribute to this important cause!  Most organizations will take donations, provide fundraising ideas and opportunities, and provide opportunities to volunteer your time.  Check them out!

Indiana Women in Need


Susan G Komen Central Indiana


Susan G Komen Foundation – National



National Breast Cancer Foundation



Breast Cancer Research Foundation


Breast Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment of breast cancer generally depends on the stage of the cancer.  More advanced cancers (Stage III and IV) often require more intense treatment (surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy).  Several common types of breast cancer treatment are explained below.

Surgery: Usually the first line of attack against breast cancer.  Surgery is often required to remove the breast cancer tumor.  There are different surgery options that include a lumpectomy (removal of breast cancer tumor) and mastectomy (removal of the breast tissue).  The ideal surgical treatment is often dependent on the cancer’s size and staging.

Radiation Therapy: treatment with high-energy rays or particles that destroy cancer cells.  Radiation to the breast is often done after lumpectomy or after some mastectomies to help lower the chance that the cancer will return.

Chemotherapy: Treatment with cancer-killing drugs that may be given intravenously (injected into a vein) or by mouth. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells in most parts of the body. Chemo is given in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a recovery period. Treatment usually lasts for several months.  There are many different chemotherapy drugs and new drugs are being studied in clinical trials every day.Chemotherapy is often used before or after surgery, and in more advanced breast cancers.  Unfortunately, chemotherapy has many undesirable effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and nausea and vomiting.

Hormone Therapy: Another form of systemic (oral tablet) therapy that can be used before or after surgery.  It is usually done to prevent cancers removed during surgery from coming back.  Most types of hormone therapy for breast cancer either lower estrogen levels or stop estrogen from acting on breast cancer cells. This kind of treatment is helpful for hormone receptor-positive breast cancers, but it does not help patients whose tumors are hormone receptor negative.

For more information, visit the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, or discuss with your physician.  The link below, from Susan G Komen,  includes an an interactive treatment tutorial for newly diagnosed patients.




Stages of Breast Cancer

Once a person has been diagnosed with breast cancer, their doctors will determine the stage of the cancer to express how far the disease has developed.  This staging is important because it helps to determine the best way to contain and treat the cancer.  Staging is based on a number of characteristics, such as tumor size, spread of the cancer,and how many lymph nodes are involved.  For more detailed information, the National Breast Cancer Foundation has a series of patient-friendly videos to help explain the staging process.

Introduction to Stages of Breast Cancer:



Stage 0-1:



Stage 2:



Stage 3:

Stage 3


Stage 4:

Stage 4

Breast Cancer in Men

Did you know that men can develop breast cancer?  Breast cancer can occur in men, although it is rare.  Less than 1% of all breast cancers are in men.   Men at any age may develop breast cancer, but it is usually detected (found) in men between 60 and 70 years of age.  For more from the National Breast Cancer Foundation please follow the link below.



Risk factors for breast cancer in men include the following:

  • Being exposed to radiation
  • Having a disease linked to high levels of estrogen in the body, such as cirrhosis (liver disease) or certain genetic disorders
  • Having several female relatives who have had breast cancer, especially relatives who have alterations in the BRCA-2 gene (a gene that increases risk for breast cancer)

Breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.