By Dr. E. Kirsten Peters
CNHI News Service
I have an elderly aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago. She was treated and remained cancer-free for years. But I also had a next-door neighbor who got the same diagnosis. She was treated, but succumbed to the disease not too long after.
My experience is not unique. Those of us who have been around the block a few times know people who have survived breast cancer and people who have died from it. Why the differences in results from person to person?
Part of the reason is that breast cancer is really several different diseases. There are four major types of the disease, with variations in those four categories. The four major types have the challenging names of basal-like, luminal A, luminal B and HER2-enriched.
Recently researchers announced a step forward in studying the different types of breast cancer, a step toward coming up with better treatments down the road.
Matthew Meyerson is one of the authors on a recent and major paper published in the journal Nature. He is a researcher with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Meyerson talked to National Public Radio about a project he and many other researchers completed studying 825 breast cancer patients.
“We basically studied the genomes of breast cancers from each of these women in comparison to the genomes of the rest of their bodies,” Meyerson said to NPR.
As more knowledge about cancers accumulates, treatments can evolve in a positive direction. For example, certain genetic mutations may be behind basal-like breast cancer and ovarian cancer, especially in certain women. For them, it may be that future treatments could use ovarian cancer drugs for breast cancer treatment.
In the language of these matters, patients and researchers alike hope for a “silver bullet” that could be used in treatment, a medication or therapy plan that would make all the difference in survival rates. But Meyerson cautions that recent research, while promising, is a long way from anything like a silver bullet.