Physicians and researchers are currently working to expand our knowledge of breast cancer. This work focuses on preventative measures, developing new treatments and therapies and learning how to provide optimal care to people diagnosed with this disease. New areas of research often open up options for patients through clinical trials. Current research focuses on working to find better ways to detect, prevent, and treat breast cancer and strives to improve the quality of life of patients. Active areas of research include managing ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), reducing breast cancer risk and developing novel forms of breast cancer treatment. All of these areas rely on repositories of high quality cancer tissue and related data.
In DCIS, cancerous cells are located in the top layers of cells within the ducts of the breast. The diseased cells generally do not penetrate into deeper regions of the tissue. Under some conditions, DCIS may transform into more invasive cancer while in other cases the breast cancer cells remain within the ducts and do not migrate deeper or spread to other organs. DCIS is a risk factor for invasive breast cancer but the probability that DCIS will progress and become invasive is not known. Uncertainty about the progression of DCIS makes it challenging to select the appropriate type of treatment required. Further, DCIS is ordinarily treated like early-stage invasive breast cancer using a combination of surgery, radiation and hormonal therapy. The survival rate in such cases is very high. Thus, there is also a question of whether some patients could obtain successful results with less treatment. Current research targets difficulties in charting the progression of DCIS as well as the amount of therapy necessary and attempts to develop new approaches to treatment that take these considerations into account.
In many cases, hormone therapy drugs like Tamoxifen are used to help treat breast cancer. Such drugs might also help prevent it. Tamoxifen is an FDA approved drug for reducing the risk of local recurrence of DCIS. In addition to treating breast cancer, Tamoxifen has also been approved as a preventative therapy but concerns about side effects have limited its use. Driven by the goal of reducing breast cancer risk, additional research into hormone therapy drugs like Tamoxifen is an active area of current research.
Another promising area of study involves drugs for targeted therapy. Targeted therapies represent an attempt to precisely identify and attack cancer cells while leaving normal cells undamaged. They isolate gene changes in diseased cells that facilitate growth and limit the cells from spreading. Targeted therapies currently under study include PARP inhibitors, which are useful for fighting cancers caused by BRCA mutations, as well as angiogenesis-blocking drugs such as bevacizumab. Targeted therapies are exciting because they have less severe side effects than traditional chemotherapy drugs.
Recent progress in breast cancer research is positively impacting the clinical environment in a number of ways. This work would not be possible without high quality tissue samples. By coupling the data generated via clinical trials with more basic research, and utilizing readily available specimens from both diseased and healthy tissue, clinicians and scientists are driving breast cancer research forward and developing treatments that significantly impact the quality of patient care.