Think Pink: The latest research on the fight against breast cancer

Molly Anderson

Think Pink: The latest research on the fight against breast cancer

In offices and at sporting events, in schools and on television, the world is awash in pink. The month of October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Its beginning was a humble 1985 partnership between the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries (now part of pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca.) In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation began handing out pink ribbons to participants in a New York City race for breast cancer survivors. Today, thinking pink is a booming industry, with some reports claiming $6B is collected annually in support of the cause. With so much funding, what new discoveries are being made?

Determining cause

Many studies are underway and aimed at zeroing in on the causes of breast cancer. Research related to weight, exercise and diet, gene variations and environmental causes will hopefully lead to information that makes a difference in terms of both prevention and treatment. Currently, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is studying 50,000 women who have sisters with breast cancer over a 10-year period. Scientists are looking at genes, lifestyle and environmental factors to help determine cause. Learn more at www.sisterstudy.com.

Reducing risk through medication

Considerable research studies show medications may impact risk reduction, including medications currently used to treat diagnosed breast cancer. Tamoxifen and raloxifene have already been approved for preventive use and others are being considered as well. Drugs typically used to treat other conditions, like statins and bisphosphonates, are being studied for their potential impact on breast cancer reduction. The effect of dietary supplements such as grapeseed extract, folate, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B12 and B6 on risk reduction is also being studied.

Improved testing

Molecular breast imaging, or scintimammography, is a test in which a radioactive medication that attaches itself to breast cancer cells is injected intravenously. By using a special camera, doctors can better evaluate suspicious areas. Although new, early studies show this testing may be as effective as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for breast tissue. Current research is focused on improving the testing and determining its role in breast cancer testing.

Advances in pharmaceutical treatment

New drugs show potential in the fight against breast cancer:

  • Targeted therapies target gene changes in cancer cells to prevent growth. Drugs that target the HER2 gene and those that help hormone therapy are currently being used to treat breast cancer.
  • PARP inhibitors block what’s believed to be a broken repair system of damaged DNA in cells. Current studies show early potential in treating cancers caused by BRCA genetic mutations with PARP inhibitors.
  • Anti-angiogenesis drugs prevent the development of blood vessels that support cancer cells. Initial trials were not considered successful, but more research is being done in this area.

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