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Breast Cancer Research: The Breakthroughs of Today for Those Diagnosed Tomorrow

As one of the largest foundations in the world, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) funded nearly 300 scientists from 2018 to 2019. The research conducted by these past, current and future grantees will create opportunities, solutions and breakthroughs for breast cancer patients. Thanks to the research on this disease, there are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S and deaths from breast cancer have declined by 40 percent over the last 25 years.

A Legacy of Breakthroughs

In 1999, BCRF discovered that the drug Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen drug, could be used to treat early and advanced stages of the disease to reduce the incidence of breast cancer by about 30%. Four years later, they identified cancer stem cells in breast cancer to help prevent progression and metastasis. Recently, in 2012, a new drug Perjeta was approved to be used in combination with other medication and chemotherapy to improve the overall survival of metastatic breast cancer from the average of 40 months to 56 months.

TAILORx Trial: Avoiding Chemotherapy in Early Stages of the Disease  

In 2018, after 10 years of research, the ‘TAILORx trial’ confirmed that most patients with early stage ER-positive breast cancer (which is nearly 60,000 patients per year), can skip chemotherapy. By determining an Oncotype DX® Recurrence Score® through 21 genes from a tumor biopsy, patients are assigned a Reoccurrence Score (RS) of 1-100. The RS indicates the likelihood of the cancer returning and determines the risk of recurrence in newly diagnosed patients while in the early stages of the disease.

The study included more than 10,000 women across 6 countries with ER-positive, HER2-negative, node negative breast cancer. The women with a low RS  (RS of 1-10) were treated with hormone therapy alone, and the women with a high-risk of recurrence (RS greater than 26) were treated with a combination of hormone therapy and chemotherapy.

Of the total study participants, 70 percent were in an intermediate group with a RS of 11-25. In this group, participants were randomized to receive either hormone therapy and chemotherapy, or hormone therapy alone. The objective was to determine whether the addition of chemotherapy improved disease-free survival for this group of women.

After seven and a half years of follow up, the trial concluded that hormone treatment, alone, was as effective in providing distant recurrence and overall survival as the patients that received hormone therapy plus chemotherapy.

This is a breakthrough in breast cancer research because withholding or postponing the effects of chemotherapy treatment can improve a woman’s treatment plan, quality of life and spirit. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation continues to focus efforts on improving outcomes and advancements in personalized therapy. While there currently is no cure for this disease, the results of this research trial will provide hope to many women diagnosed in the future.

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