Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, held each year on October 13, was created to draw attention to metastatic breast cancer, breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other areas of the body.
Today is a day to bring awareness to this stage four disease and recognize and honor those living with it.
While there is no cure, a variety of treatments exist, including surgery and chemotherapy. There are also ongoing clinical trials studying new and effective ways to detect and treat the terminal disease.
“The purpose of clinical trials is not just to find the best treatment by increasing toxicity and drugs,” says Dr. Steven Papish, Summit Health Director of Oncology Research. “Oftentimes clinical trials help us determine if lesser treatment can be just as effective. In many cases, we’ve discovered ways to maintain treatment effectiveness by paring back certain medications, and other trials have allowed us to find ways to reduce treatment side effects. In the breast cancer arena, we’ve had several trials that have successfully done both.”
Successful Trial Example:
A scalp-cooling study, aimed at examining effectiveness of reducing chemotherapy-induced hair loss in women undergoing certain chemotherapy treatments, proved successful in preventing hair loss. Summit Health participated in the clinical trial that helped gain FDA clearance, and to date, the cooling cap has helped thousands of cancer patients in the United States and internationally retain more than 50 percent of their hair during chemotherapy.
“Our goal in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer is to provide treatments that not only prolong life, but also allow for better quality of life during those years,” says Dr. Jennifer Reeder, Summit Health oncologist and hematologist. “Several advancements over the last decade, such as targeted antibodies, CDK 4/6 inhibitors, and immunotherapy, have provided added benefit to chemotherapy and even allowed some patients to avoid its toxic effects altogether. Through these treatments, we can utilize our ever-growing knowledge of the mechanisms of how cancer cells become malignant and evade the body's natural defense systems.”
Successful Trial Example:
The PALOMA trials looked at the effectiveness of adding a new class of drugs, called the CDK 4/6 inhibitors, to standard hormonal therapy in the metastatic setting. These medicines have been found to significantly prolong the time to disease progression in women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and are generally very tolerable with minimal nausea, fatigue, and hair loss. They have now become the standard of care in combination with anti-estrogen therapy for women who are initially diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive MBC.