Precision Medicine for Lung Cancer Marks Tenth Anniversary

Ten years ago researchers at Dana-Farber and in Japan published a study showing that lung cancer patients whose tumors had a malfunctioning version of a protein called Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) responded dramatically to a drug that specifically targets the EGFR protein. The findings launched the era of precision medicine for lung cancer, transforming … Read more

New Experimental Breast Cancer Drug Shows Promise

Reports of an experimental drug that slowed advanced breast cancer in a clinical trial have stirred excitement at a national research meeting and breathed new life into a cancer-fighting strategy that had seemed to falter. In one study, the drug, palbociclib, doubled the length of time without disease progression in patients with metastatic estrogen receptor-positive breast … Read more

Clinical Trials Paving the Way for Improved Vulvar Cancer Treatment

Cancers of the vulva – the external portion of the female genitals – are diagnosed in approximately 4,700 women in the United States each year. While many patients can be cured by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, others – particularly those whose cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body – often don’t fare as well.

As one of the rarer forms of gynecologic cancer, vulvar cancer hasn’t attracted as much research funding as other forms. Still, several efforts are under way to make treatment options more effective, according to Neil Horowitz, MD, a vulvar cancer expert at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber.

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DNA Test May Offer Alternative to Pap Smear

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel has recommended that a DNA test should be the primary screening tool for cervical cancer, rather than the traditional Pap smear. The DNA test detects the DNA of human papillomavirus (HPV), the sexually transmitted infection that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.

“This is an important step forward for cervical cancer screening,” says Alexi Wright, MD, MPH, a medical oncologist in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. Specifically, the DNA test screens for HPV-16 and HPV-18, the two highest-risk HPV strains, as well as 12 other high-risk HPV types, using a blood sample.

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A History of Multiple Myeloma Advances

Not long ago, a diagnosis of multiple myeloma — a cancer of the bone marrow — carried with it a very poor prognosis, with median survival estimates of just two to three years. Now, thanks in large part to research and treatment advances at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), this disease is for many patients a chronic, and more manageable disease, with prognosis now improved to median survivals of seven to ten years.

Here is a look at how DF/BWCC physician-scientists and patients have helped lead the way toward improved treatment for multiple myeloma over the past three decades.

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Progress and Promise in Prostate Cancer Research

In prostate cancer – the most common cancer in men aside from skin cancer – scientists are working to answer some of the most basic questions about the disease while developing an array of new treatments.

Using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, doctors are often able to detect prostate cancer at an early stage. But it remains difficult to determine which prostate cancers are likely to spread – and therefore require aggressive treatment – and which are either idle or slow-growing, and can be dealt with by “observation or active surveillance.” This uncertainty could result in unnecessary treatment for some patients.

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New Research Shows Progress in Breast Cancer Treatment

The 36th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, which ran from Dec. 10-14, brought news of significant advances against a disease that strikes more than 230,000 women and 2,000 men in the United States each year.

The more than 1,000 research papers presented by thousands of scientists and physicians ranged from laboratory explorations of the basic biology of the disease to studies that may change the treatment for patients with a variety of breast cancer subtypes.

Here are summaries of the findings of several high-profile studies:

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Research Report: New Treatments for Melanoma

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.

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Clinical Trials and the Future of Lymphoma Treatment

Current lymphoma therapies are a far cry from the mustard gas used more than 50 years ago. More treatment options, including ones that may be more effective and less toxic, are being studied in ongoing clinical trials.

“Clinical trials really are the future of lymphoma treatment,” says Ann LaCasce, MD, a medical oncologist in the Adult Lymphoma Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

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Targeting Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

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.

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Research in Advanced Ovarian Cancer Shows Promise

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.

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Living with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer

Medically reviewed by Ursula Matulonis, MD

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.

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