What’s new in research, treatment?

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The latest Cancer Prevention Study-3 (CPS-3 will help researchers better understand the lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that cause or prevent cancer. Such research can lead to advancements in treatment. Mammography, for example, has been a significant advancement in the diagnosis of breast cancer over the past 30 years. | FILE PHOTO

There’s a lot of information out there about breast cancer. Here’s a round-up from the American Cancer Society of some of the latest developments in research and treatment.

Sister Study

A large, long-term study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is being done to help determine the causes of breast cancer.

Known as the Sister Study, it has enrolled 50,000 women who have sisters with breast cancer. This study will follow these women for at least 10 years and collect information about genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors that may cause breast cancer.

An offshoot of the Sister Study, the Two Sister Study, is designed to look at possible causes of early onset breast cancer.

To find out more about these studies, call 1-877-4-SISTER (1-877-474-7837) or visit the Sister Study website at www.sisterstudy.org.

Gene expression studies

One of the dilemmas with early-stage breast cancer is that doctors cannot always accurately predict which women have a higher risk of cancer coming back after treatment.

In recent years, scientists have been able to link certain patterns of genes with more aggressive cancers — those that tend to come back and spread to distant sites. Some lab tests based on these findings, such as the Oncotype DX, MammaPrint, and PAM50 tests, are already available.

Molecular breast imaging

In scintimammography, or molecular breast imaging, a slightly radioactive tracer called technetium sestamibi is injected into a vein. The tracer attaches to breast cancer cells and is detected by a special camera.

This technique is still being studied to see if it will be useful in finding breast cancers. Some radiologists believe it may be helpful in looking at suspicious areas found by regular mammograms, but its exact role remains unclear.

Current research is aimed at improving the technology and evaluating its use in specific situations such as in the dense breasts of younger women. Some early studies have suggested that it may be almost as accurate as more expensive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This test, however, will not replace your usual screening mammogram.

3D mammography

Tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, is basically an extension of a digital mammogram.

For this test, the breast is compressed once and a machine takes many low-dose X-rays as it moves over the breast. The images taken can be combined into a 3-dimensional picture. Although this uses more radiation than most standard 2-view mammograms, it may allow doctors to see problem areas more clearly, lowering the chance that the patient will need to be called back for more imaging tests.

A breast tomosynthesis machine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 for use in the U.S., but the role of this technology in screening and diagnosis is still not clear.

Radiation therapy

For women who need radiation after breast-conserving surgery, newer techniques such as hypofractionated radiation or accelerated partial breast irradiation may be as effective while offering a more convenient way to receive it (as opposed to the standard daily radiation treatments that take several weeks to complete). These techniques are being studied to see if they are as effective as standard radiation in helping prevent cancer recurrences.

New chemotherapy 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.

Vitamin D

A recent study found that women with early-stage breast cancer who were vitamin D deficient were more likely to have their cancer recur in a distant part of the body and had a poorer outlook. More research is needed to confirm this finding, and it is not yet clear if taking vitamin D supplements would be helpful.

American Cancer Society