Breast cancer may develop in one part of the body, but it’s not just one disease. In fact, oncologists think of breast cancer as at least three different types of diseases.
Erica Mayer, MD, MPH
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) describes breast cancer cells that do not have estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors. It makes up approximately 15 percent of all breast cancers and is typically more aggressive than the other two types, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer and HER2-positive breast cancer.
“It may be the smallest group, but TNBC still represents thousands of women with breast cancer, so it is a very important group for us,” says Erica Mayer, MD, MPH, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.
By Alexi Wright, MD, MPH
Although there are two main types of cervical cancer, known as adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, they’ve generally been treated as one disease, with the same approach to treatment. In a recent study, my colleagues and I surveyed the DNA in both types of cervical cancer cells to see if there were any differences. Such variations may help explain why the two types sometimes behave the way they do, and guide us toward treatments that work best in one type or the other.
By Richard Saltus
Physicians have long recognized that the same disease can behave differently from one patient to another, and that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment.
In cancer, chemotherapy might dramatically shrink one lung tumor but prove ineffective against the same type of tumor in a different patient – even though tissue samples look identical under the microscope. Side effects and appropriate dosage may vary from patient to patient as well.
The goal of personalized medicine is to match a treatment to the unique characteristics of an individual patient: his or her personal and family medical history, age, body size, and other physical characteristics, and medical test results. But fundamentally, it is the DNA blueprint within cells that strongly influences a person’s risks of disease, how illnesses play out, which drugs are likely to be most effective and with the fewest side effects. This is where the newest phase of personalized medicine is heading.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recently partnered with CancerConnect and Ursula Matulonis, MD, to answer questions about ovarian cancer. Experts in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers offer the latest research and treatment for this type of cancer. Watch one patient’s story.
Q: Is taking curcumin recommended to prevent ovarian cancer from returning? Do you have any other suggestions for preventing recurrence?
Lung cancer can be a frightening diagnosis. However, new treatment approaches and promising research trends have made the outlook for patients a little more optimistic, says David Jackman, MD, an oncologist in the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Read more
By Ursula Matulonis, MD
After a long period of slow progress, new knowledge about the genetics of ovarian cancer is leading to the development and testing of new therapies.
Researchers at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers will soon be launching several phase 3 clinical trials testing drugs known as PARP inhibitors for patients with platinum-sensitive recurrent ovarian cancer – tumors that initially responded to platinum-based chemotherapy agents but have shown evidence of regrowth at least six months after treatment. Phase 3 trials test drugs in large numbers of patients to evaluate the drugs’ effectiveness as well as safety. PARP inhibitors work by blocking one of the pathways by which tumor cells repair their damaged DNA.
When Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative double mastectomy earlier this year, this issue of cancer risk and genetics made front-page headlines. Jolie, who announced the operation in a New York Times op-ed, tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation and learned she had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer.
Jolie’s announcement left many women wanting to know more: What is a gene mutation? Should I undergo genetic testing? What should I do if my tests are positive?
By Maura Perkins
I can’t pinpoint when I started to get ovarian cancer symptoms. It was all very subtle and gradual. I was a healthy person. I ran, biked swam, hiked, and went to the gym regularly.
A slight pain in my left side, difficulty digesting food, feeling of fullness, and shortness of breath: those were the subtle constellation of symptoms that landed me in my primary care doctor’s office. At the age of 50, I felt like I was going downhill fast.
By Melanie Graham
During a child’s cancer therapy and recovery process, insomnia can often be viewed as only a side effect in the scope of treatment-related symptoms.
However, there are many physical and psychological implications that develop when a child does not sleep well, says Eric Zhou, PhD, a clinical psychology fellow in Dana-Farber’s David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic.
Zhou, who is also a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, has spent the last year studying treatments for insomnia in adolescent and young adult cancer survivors through Dana-Farber’s Swim Across America Fellowship.
More than 70 years ago, two pharmacologists began looking at mustard gas as a possible treatment for lymphoma. The chemical, used during World War I, lowered blood counts and destroyed lymph nodes in soldiers who were exposed to the gas.
Two decades after the war, a thoracic surgeon named Gustav Lindskog used nitrogen mustard to successfully treat a patient with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.