by Richard Saltus
As recently as five years ago, progress in treating life-threatening malignant melanoma was slow. Since then, several molecularly targeted drugs have burst on the scene, and new strategies for awakening the immune system to attack the cancer cells have yielded dramatic long-term survival benefits for some patients.
“The outlook for patients has never been so good – and we anticipate that in the next year or two it will be much better,” says Louise M. Perkins, PhD, chief science officer for the Melanoma Research Alliance, which funds research on the skin cancer.
As November marks Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, view the infographic below to learn more about the disease:
Each year, Dana-Farber patients join clinicians, staff, and the Boston Red Sox to share their stories of inspiration and their belief in the research advances at Dana-Farber during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon at Fenway Park.
This year, nearly 100 patients, including Rayquan Fregeau, who used art and resources from the Betty Ann Blum and Marjorie Blum Pediatric Resource Room to cope with his diagnosis; Debbie Whitmore, a mother of five who hopes for a cure for future generations; and Jack Robinson, who compiled a joke book to help other children during their treatment, shared their experiences battling cancer. Stephen Hodi, MD, Ursula Matulonis, MD, and other clinicians discussed the research and treatment strides donors help make possible.
Watch this video of highlights from the 36-hour event, which raised more than $3.5 million to support adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at Dana-Farber:
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 Patrick Palmer
In June 2001, my wife, Angela Palmer, was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer while we were living in Tucson, Arizona. This was a huge shock. She had annual mammograms and never had any indications of disease.
Angela and Patrick Palmer
She had a lumpectomy and completed about 50 percent of her chemotherapy protocol before we moved to the northeast where our family was located. We arrived in Boston in December 2001, bought a house and became engaged with a tremendous Dana-Farber team including Wendy Chen, MD, MPH, medical oncologist and Jennifer Bellon, MD, radiation oncologist. Angela immediately resumed her therapy and I became her caregiver.
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.
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?