Komen-Funded Research: Using the Tumor DNA Blueprint of Breast Cancer Patients as a Key to Personalized Medicine

While there is not yet “a cure” for breast cancer, Susan G. Komen®’s continuous support of breast cancer research has led to many breakthroughs, including that breast cancer is no longer considered to be one disease, but rather a family of diseases; and better patient care, with new approaches and therapies to treating all types of breast cancers.

Historically, the vast majority of breast cancers have been treated the same way, with a standard regimen built around surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Very inadequate, therapeutic approaches have now been better tuned to the different types of breast cancers. Yet, research shows that patients who have the same type of breast cancer could still present significant differences when their tumors are further analyzed at the molecular level. That reality is what gave rise to personalized medicine: an approach that allows patients to receive treatment plans specifically tailored to them, instead of having to undergo treatments that have not been optimized for their specific type of cancer. And why our continuous support of cancer genomics is critical.

This exciting area of research has already led to better tools to manage breast cancer in a number of ways. In addition to discovering the different biological subtypes of the disease, it has brought the design of new targeted treatments, such as trastuzumab. For many years, the drug was only used to treat metastatic breast cancer, but it is now be used to treat early-stage HER2-positive breast cancers.

However, there is still much to be learned from the vast amount of information recently generated on the genetic code of breast cancer. For example, Komen will fund a study led by Dr. Richard Myers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology that will analyze DNA blueprints from individual patients’ tumors with the goal of providing patients with the best treatment options available, and personalized to their specific tumor.

In another Komen-funded study, Dr. Christina Curtis at the University of Southern California will investigate differences in the genetic material of HER2-positive tumors before and after treatment with trastuzumab to develop a tool that will predict treatment resistance in patients receiving that drug. Dr. Curtis will then use this knowledge to design new therapies that will overcome resistance to trastuzumab.

Komen also will continue to support Dr. Andrea Richardson at Harvard Medical School. She is investigating whether mutations beneficial to tumors could be linked to increased autophagy, literally “self-eating.” Autophagy is a nutrient recycling process that is co-opted by tumor cells to feed their voracious appetite for growth. Insights into autophagy in tumor cells could be translated into new treatments that will weaken the autophagy progress in breast cancers presenting with specific DNA abnormalities that create an abnormal reliance on this process.

Komen is also funding groundbreaking, genomics-related breast cancer research right here in St. Louis at Washington University.

At Susan G. Komen, we are relentless in our pursuit of ending breast cancer forever.  The path to finding the cures might be long, and it might be hard. But 30 years ago, we embarked in a race that we must finish. By significantly investing in cancer genomics research, we will bring new and improved personalized treatments to breast cancer patients around the world. And with each new breakthrough, we will get one step closer to fulfilling our promise.

Real World Research

Susan G. Komen® has sustained a strong commitment to supporting research that will identify and deliver cures for breast cancer. This long-term commitment has resulted in important progress that has contributed to major advances in breast cancer since Komen’s founding in 1982. With increasing investments over time – now totaling over $800 million – Komen is the largest non-government funder of breast cancer research in the world.

Our research focus has evolved over the years. In the beginning we focused on understanding the basic biology of breast cancer. As we learn more about the factors that make cancer cells grow and spread, we are able to invest more in the translation of this knowledge into treatment, early detection and prevention.

Our focus is to support work that has significant potential to lead to reductions in breast cancer incidence and mortality within the decade.

Our work isn’t done until our vision of a world without breast cancer is reached.

Susan G. Komen:

  • began with a single grant for $28,000 in 1982
  • has funded research each year since we began
  • has invested more than $800 million in research since 1982 to support over 2200 research grants
  • is the largest non-government funder of breast cancer research in the world
  • currently manages over 500 active research grants totaling over $285 million
  • has supported a broad range of research from basic biology to treatment to      survivorship

Link to 2013 Research Fast Facts: http://ww5.komen.org/uploadedFiles/Content/ResearchGrants/GrantPrograms/Overview%202013%2010.17.13%20JM.pdf

Link to HER2 Research Fast Facts: http://ww5.komen.org/uploadedFiles/Content/ResearchGrants/GrantPrograms/Research%20Fast%20Facts%20FY10%20-%20HER2.pdf

Link to Metastasis Research Fast Facts: http://ww5.komen.org/uploadedFiles/Content/ResearchGrants/GrantPrograms/Metastasis%2010-24-2012.pdf

Link to Triple Negative Breast Cancer Research Fast Facts: http://ww5.komen.org/uploadedFiles/Content/ResearchGrants/GrantPrograms/TNBCFINAL.pdf

Link to Vaccine Research Fast Facts: http://ww5.komen.org/uploadedFiles/Content/ResearchGrants/GrantPrograms/ResearchFastFactsVaccine.pdf

It’s a Fact: Progress Has Been Made Toward Finding Breast Cancer Cures

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Over the past 30 years, significant advances have been made that have led to decreased mortality and increased survival rates for those diagnosed with breast cancer.

Progress in both early detection and treatment has led to improved survival for people of all ages and races, and with all stages of breast cancer. Between 1990 and 2009, breast cancer mortality declined by 33 percent among women in the United States.

And 30 years ago, the five-year relative survival rate for early stage breast cancer was about 74 percent. Today, this number has increased to 98 percent.

Great progress has been made in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer. As a result, the number of breast cancer survivors continues to rise.

For more information about Komen’s commitment to research and the progress that’s been made, please visit http://ww5.komen.org/ResearchGrants/GrantPrograms.html

Breast Cancer Survivorship, Then and Now

Over the past 30 years, much progress has been made in the fight against breast cancer and toward increasing breast cancer survivorship. More than three decades ago, when Suzy Komen was told she had breast cancer, people wouldn’t even say the words “breast cancer” aloud. The disease was not talked about in social circles and it wasn’t discussed in the media.

Since those days, progress has been significant. We are grateful that talking about breast cancer is no longer taboo.

In the years since Suzy Komen’s breast cancer experience, researchers have identified many factors that increase breast cancer risk and a few factors that lower risk. Genetic tests are now available to detect certain mutations. We know that certain lifestyle choices – such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, limiting postmenopausal hormone use, and breastfeeding – can have an impact on breast cancer risk. We know now that breast cancer is not contagious, contrary to previous belief.

Many risk factors are still unknown and some are simply out of our control; the two most significant risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. Although we have learned a lot, we still do not fully understand what causes breast cancer to develop at a certain time in a certain person.

Komen grants have made major breakthroughs possible in breast cancer over the past 30 years. And Komen is leading the way to learn more about preventing this disease, including investments in research aimed at figuring out what role environmental factors such as pollution, radiation exposure and synthetic chemicals may play in the development of breast cancer.

In 1980, the 5-year relative survival rate for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (cancer that has not left the breast) was about 74%. Today, that number is 98%.

Since 1990, early detection and effective treatment have resulted in a 34 percent decline in breast cancer mortality in the U.S.

Today, Komen continues to work to find cures for breast cancer while also helping women gain access right now to the quality breast health care they need.

Today, there are nearly three million breast cancer survivors in the United States – that’s more than any other group of cancer survivors.

Today, more breast cancer survivors are breast cancer thrivers, leading long and fulfilling lives. Komen is with these survivors at every step of their journey.

No Family History of Breast Cancer Means No Risk for Breast Cancer? That’s a Myth!

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Did you know that the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no immediate family history? Only about 13 percent of women diagnosed have an immediate female relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer. The two most significant risk factors for breast cancer are being female and getting older.

Although everyone is at risk for breast cancer, a woman who has one immediate female relative with breast cancer has almost twice the risk of a woman without a family history. If she has more than one immediate female relative with a history of breast cancer, her risk is about three to four times higher. 

Only 5-10% percent of breast cancer cases in the U.S. are from an inherited genetic mutation, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. Most breast cancer cases are due to a spontaneous gene mutation, an error in a gene that has occurred in a single cell during your lifetime.

The causes of breast cancer are not known. Breast cancer can happen to anyone, even if it’s not in your family history.

Know your risk:

  • Talk to both sides of your family to learn about your family health history
  • Talk to your health care provider about your personal risk of breast cancer

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors.

Review Komen’s breast health self-awareness messages.

 

“Thank You!” from a Survivor

Guest Writer: Angella Midgett, Breast Cancer Survivor

Susan G. Komen St. Louis and East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA) may have just saved my life.

I was at an appointment for my son, when I saw the sign for a free mammogram. I had a place in my left breast I was questioning, and no insurance. I placed the call, spoke with Angel (how appropriately named), she asked a couple questions, and the appointment was set for July 9th.

July 9th – wow, that’s when the ride began! Turns out my problem wasn’t in my left side; it was, though, on my right – too small to be felt, yet too aggressive to be easily treated. My breast cancer is Stage 1, with a rare quality causing it to be considered aggressive.

So far I have had the lumpectomy, my port put in place, and my first of six chemo treatments. Once those are completed, I will begin 35 treatments of radiation, followed up with 5-10 years of hormones.

Putting it down on paper is just part of the ride! The reality of it is, had I not had that free mammogram, that found that spot I couldn’t even feel, where would I be sitting by the time I could feel it? I’m just thankful I didn’t have to wait and find out!

So thank you, Angel, EMAA, and Susan G. Komen St. Louis! My family thanks you as well!

In 2013, Komen St. Louis granted $2.2 million to 13 local breast health programs in our 17-county Missouri/Illinois service area, including East Missouri Action Agency’s Rural Missouri Outreach Program. These grants help fund breast health and breast cancer screening, education and patient navigation services for those in our community like Angella who otherwise may not have access due to low income, lack of insurance or other barriers.