Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in women today, second only to non-melanoma skin cancer. Thanks to years of research and clinical trials, new breast cancer therapy treatments become available each year. These treatments range from advances in chemotherapy and radiation therapy, to new drugs used in adjuvant breast cancer therapy treatments.
One such therapy that was found to be effective via research and clinical trials is radiation. Radiation breast cancer therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a highly targeted, highly effective way to destroy cancer cells that may linger after surgery. This reduces the risk of recurrence in many breast cancer patients. Contrary to popular myth, radiation therapy is relatively easy to tolerate and the side effects are restricted to the area being treated. Unlike other breast cancer therapy options, patients don't lose the hair on their heads, nor do most patients have nausea or vomiting.
Advancements have also been made in the traditional breast cancer therapy, chemotherapy. One advancement currently being researched is related to dose density. Researchers are looking at the frequency of chemotherapy treatments, as well as the size of the dose, to find the most effective combination for killing cancer cells. They have found that some chemotherapy drugs, which in the standard treatment are given to breast cancer patients once every three weeks, are more effective if they are given more often in smaller doses. In addition, side effects such as nausea, vomiting, mouth sores and fatigue are less troubling with the smaller dose.
In terms of breast cancer therapy adjuvant treatments, recently three drugs that were traditionally used to stop estrogen production in postmenopausal women have been approved for use in treating both early and advanced breast cancer. These drugs, Femara, Arimidex and Aromasin, work by blocking the enzyme aromatase, which is responsible for producing small amounts of estrogen in postmenopausal women. They can only be used in postmenopausal women because they cannot stop the ovaries of premenopausal women from producing estrogen.
In terms of effectiveness as a breast cancer therapy, these drugs have been compared with Tamoxifen as adjuvant hormone treatment in postmenopausal women with early breast cancer. Clinical trials have been performed comparing Tamoxifen with one of the aromatase inhibitors for a total of 5 years, or after either 2 years or 5 years of Tamoxifen treatment. Each study has shown an advantage to using either the aromatase inhibitor instead of Tamoxifen for a total of 5 years or following several years of Tamoxifen, as opposed to keeping women solely on Tamoxifen for a full 5 years. These aromatase inhibitors are often a first choice because they have fewer side effects than Tamoxifen. The incidence of blood clots is rare and there is no connection to endometrial cancer. However, these aromatase inhibitors can cause osteoporosis and bone fractures because they remove all estrogens from a postmenopausal woman.
Not only has this ongoing research resulted in many new breast cancer therapy options, it has also brought researchers closer to finding a breast cancer gene. While some genes related to breast cancer have been identified, their roles are not entirely clear and not all women with these genes develop cancer, nor do all breast cancer patient have these genes. With continued research, scientists hope to find more information on breast cancer genes. The hope is that once these genes are found and their relevance determined, women will be able to be tested for the gene and if they are found to have it, they can undergo more rigorous screening.
While we have come a long way in finding new breast cancer therapy options, there is still more work to do. With continued research and funding, one day we may even find a cure for this devastating disease.