Research on treatment
Researchers are studying many types of treatment and their combinations. Different types of surgery are being combined with other treatments. Doctors are studying whether radiation therapy can be used instead of surgery to treat cancer in lymph nodes. They are looking at the effectiveness of radiation therapy to a larger area around the breast. In women with early breast cancer, doctors are studying whether radiation therapy to a smaller part of the breast may be helpful.
Researchers are testing new anticancer drugs and doses for chemotherapy and looking at new ways to combine them with other treatments. Several types of hormone therapy, including aromatase inhibitors, are under investigation. And new biological treatments also are under study. For example, researchers are studying cancer vaccines that help the immune system kill cancer cells.
In addition new drugs, used alone or in combination with existing ones, are broadening treatment options and helping tackle the disease like never before. For example, Herceptin, which has been approved for early- and advanced-stage breast cancer, is still the first choice for women with tumors that test positive for HER-2, a protein that spurs cancer cells to grow and proliferate. But for some women, the drug stops working and the tumor returns. Fortunately for them, there's the newly approved Tykerb, which is being used successfully in conjunction with oral chemotherapy for women with advanced HER-2 breast cancer.
Researchers are also looking at ways to lessen the side effects from treatment. One method under study is sentinel lymph node biopsy. Today, surgeons have to remove many lymph nodes under the arm and check each of them for cancer. Researchers are studying whether checking only the node to which cancer is most likely to spread (sentinel lymph node) will allow them to predict whether cancer has spread to other nodes. If this new procedure works as well as standard treatment, surgeons may be able to remove fewer lymph nodes. This could reduce lymphedema for many patients.
Next on the horizon for breast cancer researchers: testing the effectiveness of drugs that work on a cellular level, which could significantly shorten the amount of time between trials and FDA approval. Preventive vaccines, which use your immune system to extinguish the disease, are also being studied.