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Health Information Advances in Treatment: Breast Cancer

Revolutionizing breast cancer treatment

Ask any woman what disease she fears most and there is a good chance her reply will be breast cancer.

But today, perhaps more than ever before, doctors are making remarkable progress in understanding the disease and how to fight it - thanks in part to research at Rush University Medical Center.

Discover Rush asked Melody Cobleigh, MD, director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Rush, to talk about a few of the developments that are revolutionizing breast cancer treatment.

Recent breast cancer research holds a lot of promise. Why are some people calling this the most exciting time ever in the field of breast cancer?

I think the most promising development has been our understanding of the molecular biology of cancer cells. In breast cancer this has resulted in novel therapies, such as the use of antibodies like Herceptin to target tumor cells and leave normal cells alone. Among other things, it has also given us the ability to tell if patients will benefit from chemotherapy.

When Herceptin was originally approved as a treatment for cancer that spreads beyond the breast, it was considered groundbreaking. Has the drug lived up to its promise?

About 25 percent of all breast cancers overproduce a specific protein that tends to increase the rate of growth and recurrence of cancerous cells. Herceptin is an antibody that blocks this protein. Basically, it zeroes in on these aggressive tumor cells and kills them. Researchers at RUSH were involved in the clinical trials that led to Herceptin's original approval for treating metastatic breast cancer. Recently published research has shown that Herceptin is also helpful in treating early breast cancer. Given with or after chemotherapy it has made the biggest impact in terms of potentially curing patients. It has cut the rate of breast cancer recurring by 50 percent.

Are there other new therapies on the horizon that specifically target cancer cells?

Another targeted therapy that Rush helped to investigate is the drug bevacizumab, which is awaiting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval for breast cancer treatment. It sabotages new blood vessel formation so that the tumor cells are starved of oxygen. Trials show that this drug can double the response rate to chemotherapy.

What do new treatments such as these mean for chemotherapy?

For many women, chemotherapy will still be an important part of treatment. With the availability of oncotype DX genetic testing, it's now possible to identify the women most likely to benefit from chemotherapy, among women who have estrogen-fueled tumors and who have no signs of cancer in their lymph nodes. That's a large percentage of the women diagnosed.

Previously, physicians recommended chemotherapy for most of these women with tumors larger than one centimeter because you couldn't tell who would be helped by it and who wouldn't. Overall, about four percent of women benefited from chemotherapy, which meant that physicians were treating 100 people to help four.

The oncotype DX genetic test involves analyzing a tumor for 21 specific genes that researchers at Rush helped to identify. These genes can predict whether a particular cancer is likely to come back. Using a mathematical formula, we create a recurrence score. People with very high recurrence scores may benefit most from chemotherapy; those with low recurrence scores do not benefit at all.

Find it early

While breast cancer treatments are changing, the need to protect yourself is not. If you're a woman age 40 or older, a yearly mammogram should be on your calendar.

Early detection offers the best hope for effective treatment. And mammography, with highly skilled and caring technologists and radiologists who specialize in reading mammograms, such as those at the Rush Breast Imaging Center, offers the best way to find the disease in its earliest stages.

  • Get a mammogram from the experts at the Rush Breast Imaging Center between May and July and receive a $25 discount card for Michael Anthony SalonSpa. Call (312) 942-2027 to schedule your mammogram appointment.
  • Looking for more information on breast care at Rush? Visit our Comprehensive Breast Center home page.
  • For more information about mammograms at Rush visit the Breast Imaging Center home page.
  • Visit the breast cancer home page in our health information area for in-depth and patient-friendly information on breast cancer.
  • Looking for information on other health topics? Visit our Health Information home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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Discover Rush, 2006 - Summer
Advances in Treatment: Breast Cancer

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