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Fall 2005

Breast Cancer Research Explores Promising Treatments

In what physicians and patient advocates are calling the best news in decades in adjuvant therapy for breast cancer, the molecularly targeted therapy Herceptin—when combined with chemotherapy—was found to dramatically reduce the risk of death and disease recurrence in women with a particularly aggressive form of the disease.

The combination already had proven effective in women with advanced breast cancer who tested positive for HER- 2/neu over-expression. The latest results confirmed what oncologists had hoped— that the combination therapy would be as effective in women whose cancer had not yet spread. Herceptin—a monoclonal antibody that blocks excess cell growth— was developed based on research by Dennis Slamon, M.D., head of clinical/ translational research at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center.

Saeed Sadeghi, M.D., an oncologist at the UCLA hematology/oncology outpatient clinic in Santa Monica, is also encouraged by initial results from several UCLA studies of women with advanced breast cancer. These studies combine various hormonal and molecularly targeted therapies to treat cancer, both with and without chemotherapy.

“There’s been a lot of progress in treating breast cancer, certainly at the earlier stages,” Dr. Sadeghi says. “The goal now is to better manage patients with more advanced breast cancer. I’m hopeful we’ll have some promising new treatments in the next few years.”

Another recent study showed that breast cancer patients who followed diets low in fat reduced the chance that their tumors will return—the first time a large, rigorous study showed that diet could have an impact on any cancer.

“The study showed that not only is weight loss good for a variety of reasons, but it also improves survival in breast cancer patients,” says Patricia Ganz, M.D., director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center.

Dr. Ganz recommends that women take four steps to help prevent breast cancer or to prevent disease recurrence. Those steps include: maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol consumption, exercise regularly and avoid or minimize hormone therapy after menopause.

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