What Is CA-125?

CA-125, the abbreviated name for cancer antigen 125, is a protein that’s often elevated in ovarian cancer as well as other types of cancers, such as those of the lung and breast. It’s also elevated when disease or inflammation arises in the pleura – the tissue that enfolds the lungs – or the inner lining of the abdomen. It was discovered at Dana-Farber in 1981 by Robert Bast, MD, and Robert Knapp, MD, who quickly realized this protein could be used to follow treatment once the presence of ovarian cancer was found. They developed the CA-125 test, which measures the …

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Can Two Ovarian Cancer Drugs Succeed Where Others Have Failed?

ovarian cancer, research

When Donna Gregory’s ovarian cancer came back for the third time, she began looking for alternatives to chemotherapy. She’d been diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer in 2003, at age 58. After having surgery to remove her tumors, she tried platinum-based chemotherapy, but her cancer did not respond. Several more chemotherapy drugs worked, but only briefly. Gregory searched for experimental alternatives and found a clinical trial, led by Joyce Liu, MD, at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. The trial was open to women with recurrent ovarian cancer, and wasn’t restricted to BRCA mutation carriers or …

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Federally Funded Research Can Power Progress Against Cancer


This post originally appeared on the AACR Cancer Research Catalyst Blog. This week, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) released the results of a national survey on American voters’ opinions about cancer and cancer research funding in conjunction with its fifth annual Cancer Progress Report. The report highlights how federally funded research can power progress against cancer and urges Congress and the administration to prioritize the growth of the budgets of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Read more: Explaining the Complexities of Cancer Five Things You Should …

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What Is a Checkpoint Inhibitor?


Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs – often made of antibodies – that unleash an immune system attack on cancer cells. They’ve scored some impressive successes in recent years, particularly in some patients with metastatic melanoma or Hodgkin lymphoma, and are showing promise in clinical trials involving patients with other types of cancer. Checkpoint inhibitors seek to overcome one of cancer’s main defenses against an immune system attack. Immune system T cells patrol the body constantly for signs of disease or infection. When they encounter another cell, they probe certain proteins on its surface, which serve as insignia of the cell’s …

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Finding the Best Targets for Precision Cancer Treatment

cancer research

The inner world of a cancerous tumor is a place of intense rivalry, subversion, and aggression. Multiple subgroups of malignant cells – each with its own pattern of molecular features – vie with one another for nutrients, access to the blood supply, and room to grow and spread. This diversity, or “heterogeneity,” complicates efforts to develop drugs that target the abnormal proteins in tumor cells. With so many subsets of cancer cells to choose from, how can researchers know which ones represent the tumor’s Achilles’ heel – the ones that are the tumor’s greatest vulnerability? Researchers generally assumed that these …

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Childhood Cancer and the Promise of Gene Therapy

gene therapy

At its most basic level, gene therapy is a powerful technique for correcting mistakes (called mutations) in DNA of human cells. Lately, the therapy has been gaining traction as a potentially life-saving treatment for children with an array of inherited rare blood and immune disorders, as well as certain cancers. Gene therapies are being carefully tested in clinical trials, using improved, safer DNA delivery methods to reduce the risk of complications: some patients in earlier trials developed leukemia when treated with previous “vectors” – engineered viruses that transfer copies of normally functioning genes into cells of ill patients.  So far, …

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Progress in the Treatment of Childhood Leukemia

Kimberly Stegmaier

Although treatments for childhood cancer patients are improving, cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in children. Doctors and researchers are also focused on decreasing the toxicity of these treatments, which can have side effects years after a child finishes treatment. “The war against childhood cancer is hardly over,” says Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, a pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “We need to do better.” Stegmaier, who focuses her research on identifying new drug targets and new drugs for leukemia, Ewing sarcoma, and neuroblastoma, recently discussed advances in childhood cancer treatment in a Science, Innovation, …

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I Have Metastatic Breast Cancer: What’s My Prognosis?

Rachel Freedman, MD, MPH

By Rachel A. Freedman, MD, MPH Metastatic breast cancer generally means that the cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes under the arm. For approximately 10 percent of women with breast cancer, the disease has metastasized when they are first diagnosed, but metastatic disease can also occur when cancer returns after previous treatment. The prognosis is not the same for all metastatic breast cancer patients and can vary tremendously based upon multiple factors, including your breast cancer subtype (such as estrogen receptor [or ER] status and human epidermal growth factor receptor [or HER2] status), the degree of …

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Do All BRCA Mutations Come with the Same Cancer Risk?

Gentic testing for breast and ovarian cancer patients.

Women born with mutations in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 have an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, but the degree of increase depends on a variety of factors. Not all mutations within these genes raise the risk equally. A study published earlier this year tracked breast and ovarian cancer occurrences over a 75-year period in 31,000 women who had inherited mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2. The researchers found that mutations at either end of the BRCA1 gene increased the risk of breast cancer more than the risk of ovarian cancer. A group of mutations that occur in the middle …

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Why I Ride: Dr. Christopher Sweeney

Team Shawmut PMC

Since 1980, more than 88,000 cyclists have taken to Massachusetts’ roads for the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) to raise funds for cancer research and patient care at Dana-Farber. Among the riders are many patients, their family members, and their doctors. Christopher Sweeney, MBBS, medical oncologist in Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, is one of them. We recently spoke with Dr. Sweeney about what motivates him to ride. Why did you start riding the PMC? In addition to treating patients with genitourinary cancers, particularly prostate and testicular cancer, I do clinical and translational research, with a focus on trying to find …

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