Breast Cancer Update

American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Update
December 2009

Finding Cures: What's New in Breast Cancer Treatment?

While breast cancer remains the most common cancer among women in the United States, the death rate from the disease has been steadily dropping since 1990, and the number of breast cancer survivors is growing every day. We also know more about the major risk factors for the disease than ever before.

But there is still much to do.

Many studies are underway to find the causes of breast cancer and improve early detection and treatment. The Sister Study, a large, long-term study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), is following 50,000 women who have sisters with breast cancer. The goal is to collect information about genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors that may cause breast cancer. The American Cancer Society joined forces with NIEHS in 2004 to help with the study. An offshoot of the Sister Study, the Two Sister Study, is designed to look at possible causes of early onset breast cancer.

Researchers are also looking at whether newer drugs can reduce the risk of breast cancer in certain women in the same way tamoxifen can. And for women who have had breast cancer, researchers are studying new laboratory tests that may be able to predict which women are more likely to see their cancer come back.

Scientists are also testing several newer breast cancer screening methods, such as molecular breast imaging and 3D mammography. Some radiologists think molecular imaging, which uses a slightly radioactive tracer to look for abnormalities in the breast, may be useful in evaluating the dense breasts of younger women or for looking at suspicious areas found by mammography, but they are still studying the technique. An extension of digital mammography, 3D mammography allows doctors to view a 3-dimensional picture of the breast, but it is still experimental.

Doctors are also testing new chemotherapy drugs and targeted therapies, as well newer types of mastectomy, which aim to preserve more of the breast.

Since 1971, the American Cancer Society has awarded approximately $388.4 million to breast cancer research, and nearly all the general research (about 70 percent) the Society funds has a potential benefit for breast cancer. Society-funded research has led to mammography to screen for breast cancer, the development of lifesaving drugs such as tamoxifen and Herceptin (trastuzumab), as well as the discovery of HER-2, a gene affecting breast cancer cell growth. While some organizations only support breast cancer research, the research supported by the American Cancer Society in this area also helps scientists understand other types of cancer, too.

And since 1946, the American Cancer Society has funded 44 Nobel Prize winners, one of the most recent of whom was among the 3 researchers who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year. To learn more about the American Cancer Society research program and how we’re working to find cures for breast cancer, click here.

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