Breast Cancer Breakthroughs

Breast Cancer Breakthroughs

Aggressive or late stage tumors pose a tremendous challenge, fortunately breakthroughs are made every day to help win the fight.
It is the 2nd most common cancer in the U.S. and is a worrisome threat for women. Breast cancer has touched all of us in some way. Either you've had it, or you know someone who has. 

The survival rates for early stage cancers is very good, over 90 percent in some cases.  But the more aggressive or late stage tumors still pose a tremendous challenge. Fortunately breakthroughs are made every day to help win the fight.

One woman out of eight will get the news she doesn't want to hear.

"I found out on July 27th. That surprise, the nightmare."

For 45-year-old Paula Little of dinuba, the nightmare was finding out she had breast cancer...

"You're never going to forget that day? No no never."

Paula is several months into treatment with a couple more to go. But while she gets the help she needs , she's also helping breast cancer patients down the road.

Paula is taking part in a clinical trial at Kaiser Hospital in Fresno.  She's testing a new combination of chemotherapy drugs that's actually fewer drugs over a longer period of time.

"So you're always trying to find a better drug that's just as good with less side effects and better."

Better outcomes, with fewer drugs.  Less is more might be the best way to describe it. Researchers have learned a lot since the first chemotherapy drug for Breast Cancer came out in 1973. Now treatments and even screenings are tailor made for each patient.

"So when patients are undergoing their annual screening mammography they're getting a series of questions asked," says Doctor Uma Swamny, a radiation oncologist at Community Medical Centers. 

Dr. Swamy is a radiation oncologist at community medical centers.. She says many breast centers now pre-screen at the time of a woman's annual mammogram to determine beforehand who's at high risk.

They're asked if there's a family history of breast cancer, a family history of ovarian cancer and at what age a family member was diagnosed.

"And they have the option. Not everyone wants to know if they're at high risk and that's obviously a patient's choice," says Dr. Swamy.

Genetic testing is now available to determine if a woman carries the breast cancer gene. The once costly test has now become more affordable and more available to more women. 

And there are also breakthroughs on the screenings tests themselves. For the past year, breast tomo-synthesis has been offered in Fresno. 3D mammography making images of dense breast tissue easier to read.

"The breast is a 3D structure. So when we do a mammogram we get a 2D picture. So there's going to be numerous overlapping structures. The 3D makes it into layers so we just peel back each layer and we know what is at each depth," says Doctor Bonna Rogers-Neufeld from Women's Imaging.

"In this case there is cancer that's sitting out to the side. Here. We can see it right here. And it's a stellate mass. And we can really see it clearly on that image."

Within a year, Fresno is expected to get the next screening tool: automated breast ultrasound.. A precise image done by machine instead of by hand, another hi-tech, 3-dimensional view into the breast. Another tool for younger women with dense tissue. 

Catching cancer early has always been the key to survival. Early stage cancers have high cure rates, but the more aggressive tumors are still a challenge.

"The focus on research is really on those aggressive types where we do need to be more aggressive and more tailored to target those profiles," says Dr. Swamy.

And someday research may provide a fatal blow to breast cancer altogether. Cleveland Clinic researchers are working on a breast cancer vaccine. It's still at least two years away from being tested on women. And ten years away from the marketplace. And every little push helps, even on the local level .

"If I've gotta go through something. I'm gonna go through this trial. How can i make it better for someone else so they don't have to go through what i did."

One doctor, one researcher, one woman helping another, win the fight against breast cancer. 

Of course a key in beating cancer is doing all you can to protect yourself:
*Yearly mammograms for women over 40.
*Yearly clinical exams with your doctor.
*And monthly breast self exams-- of course our Buddycheck 24 program will help remind you to do your monthly check.
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