Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Possibility for Women with Estrogen-Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer?

3There is hope today. Yes, there is hope for the one in eight. There is hope for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
That’s not to say that there never was before, of course. Certainly there was – thanks in part to the tireless efforts to raise breast cancer awareness through pink promotional item campaigns – already hope for the millions of women suffering from breast cancer. If by nothing else, that reality is evidenced by the more than 2.6 million U.S. breast cancer survivors the non-profit Breast says there were in 2011.

Now, however, there is new hope for women who are suffering from estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. Findings from a newly completed study that was conducted by Australian scientists show that a specific change occurring when tumors become immune to anti-estrogen therapy has the possibility to make the cancer vulnerable to chemotherapy drug treatments. 

The 70 percent of breast cancer patients who have the estrogen-receptor-positive variety typically experience positive results when anti-estrogen therapy is administered. That is, they do for the first few years, at least. Tragically, though, half of them experience a relapse inside of 15 years and eventually lose the fight against the disease.

The new findings out of Australia present at least a sliver of raised hope that that may one day no longer be the case. In conjunction with Cardiff University scientists, doctors and professors from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research were able to demonstrate that the BCL-2 gene becomes epigenetically “silent” in resistant tumors.
What exactly does that mean?

"The main purpose of the BCL-2 gene is to keep cells alive, so when the gene is silenced, cells become more vulnerable to chemotherapy," said Dr. Andrew Stone.

This discovery, then, is potentially a major step forward in the treatment of breast cancer. It’s too early to start promoting a new miracle breast cancer treatment, though. There’s still a long way to go before the findings effect change in that 50 percent figure. The findings must now be tested through clinical studies.

Still, the study’s conductors are hopeful.
“We propose that if the BCL-2 gene is silenced, patients with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer would benefit from combination therapy,” said Stone. “In other words, tamoxifen could be used in combination with a chemotherapy drug, to kill off vulnerable tumor cells.

"Excitingly, this is something that could be implemented into clinical practice very quickly, since the technology now exists to profile methylation of BCL-2 in all patients -- both estrogen responsive and estrogen resistant patients. In addition, the proposed chemotherapy drugs are already in use."

It’s his belief that this test could prove helpful to shut down tumors in patients at an early stage. It’s only a hopeful belief at this time, but, with so many tragically dying when the current treatment options fail and the tumors spread to other parts of the body, hope is at least something positive to hold onto.

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