Treatment Options For Breast Cancer

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Michael White, professor and department head from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, talks about treatment and options for breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here are some questions with answers provided by White:

Is the rate of death due to breast cancer changing over time?

With increased awareness, early detection, and new and advanced treatments, the death rates from breast cancer have been declining since 1989.

What if a woman gets invasive breast cancer, will she get chemotherapy?

Treating breast cancer has come out of the dark ages. Intense research into perfecting older therapies and developing newer targeted therapies has made a tremendous difference.  Adding drugs to make the side effects of chemotherapy less miserable, like amazing anti-nausea medications and drugs to reduce the elevated risk of infection is having major impact.  Today, there is no one regimen for everyone.  The tumor size, whether the tumor is estrogen, progesterone or HER2 positive, and whether or not cancer cells have spread into the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body determine the surgical and drug regimen the patient receives.

In addition to standard chemotherapy, tell me about the targeted therapies that can be used…

Women with estrogen receptor positive tumors can be put on tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors to stop any remaining cancer cells from growing back so fast.  They have decreased the 5 year recurrence rate of breast cancer.  HER2 positive cancers can be treated with one or two HER2 receptor blockers which reduce cancer cell growth.  A newer therapeutic option if cancer recurs in HER2 positive women is to use a HER2 receptor blocker linked to a chemotherapeutic agent to get the chemo drug right where it needs to go with fewer side effects.  Another option for HER2 positive women who fail regular HER2 receptor blockers are tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

What does the term triple negative breast cancer mean?

Triple negative breast cancer means that their cancer cells do not have receptors for estrogen, progesterone, or HER2.  They usually have a worse clinical course than those people who have receptors that can be blocked and cancer cell growth dramatically slowed down. However, hope may be on the horizon because a new class of drugs called PARP inhibitors are now being studied specifically in this population.  The take home message is that there is a tremendous research focus on breast cancer and regimens will continue to be refined and newer options will be on the way.

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