Actual Progress We've Made With Breast Cancer Research in the Past Year

Oct 31, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Syringe with breast cancer ribbon on petri dish
Image: CRISTINA PEDRAZZINI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Each October, we're inundated with pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. At this stage, it's pretty safe to say most of us are very, very aware of the disease that affects 1 in 8 women in the United States, so naturally, our focus shifts to funding research to prevent and treat breast cancer. But is that research translating into any actual progress? 

Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, is hopeful about these new advances in breast cancer medicine.

"From my vantage point as an advocate, any technological advancement that can get more women through the door and screened with the most proven and advanced technology out there is great news for women," she tells SheKnows. "This, coupled with access to new therapeutics if women are diagnosed, alongside good aftercare, will help get us to a time where we can prevent death from breast cancer."

Here are a few of the innovations in breast cancer-prevention and treatment we've made in the past year.

More: Why as a Survivor, I Hate Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Next generation of 3-D mammography

Along with self-exams, mammograms are one of our first lines of defense against breast cancer, so it makes sense that the technology behind the imaging is constantly improving. One example of this is the Hologic’s 3Dimensions Mammography System, which provides faster, higher-resolution 3-D images for radiologists and a more comfortable mammography experience, with low-dose options for patients.

MemorialCare Breast Center in Laguna Hills, California, part of MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, is first on the West Coast to install this system.

“We’re excited to study this first-of-its-kind imaging device along with other new advanced technologies as we continually strive to offer our patients the best breast care possible,” Dr. Gary M. Levine, medical director of MemorialCare Breast Centers, said in a statement emailed to SheKnows.

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AeroForm remote-controlled tissue expander

AeroForm tissue expander Image: Courtesy Of AeroForm.

After having a mastectomy, some breast cancer survivors opt to have breast reconstruction surgery. But before anything is implanted or reconstructed, tissue expanders must be used in order to stretch the breast tissue over the chest wall.

For the past 40 years, the standard procedure has been making weekly trips to the doctor's office so they can inject saline via a needle into a temporary expander. Recently, the FDA has cleared another way to do this, using the AeroForm, a needle-free and patient-controlled tissue expansion device that operates via a wireless handheld "smart expander" placed under the chest muscle.

Dr. Tracey H. Stokes, a board-certified plastic surgeon from Fort Lauderdale, opted to use AeroForm for her own reconstruction after having breast cancer.

"AeroForm tissue expanders have revolutionized the tissue-expansion process and allow women undergoing breast reconstruction the comfort, convenience and control to carry out their reconstruction on their own terms," she tells SheKnows.

Therapy for metastatic breast cancer patients

There is still no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but we are making progress in terms of life-extension. In fact, the FDA approved two treatment regimens involving the drug Kisqali (ribociclib). The first is for pre/perimenopausal or postmenopausal women with HR-positive, HER2-negative advanced or metastatic breast cancer and will be used as the first endocrine-based therapy for these patients.

The second is Kisqali in combination with fulvestrant to treat postmenopausal women who have HR-positive, HER2-negative advanced or metastatic breast cancer, as the initial endocrine therapy after their disease progresses.

Clinical trials involving both versions had better progression-free survival outcomes than trials involving a placebo. 

Vitamin D could decrease breast cancer risk

According to a study conducted by The North American Menopause Society and published in Menopause, the journal of NAMS, women with low levels of vitamin D after menopause may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Moreover, vitamin D may play a role in controlling breast cancer cells or stopping them from growing, Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, the executive director of NAMS, told Menopause.

So, eat plenty of vitamin-D-rich foods and get out in the sunshine (with proper SPF, of course).

We still have a long way to go in terms of getting breast cancer under control, but it's promising to know that some progress is being made — hopefully, with more to come.

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