In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

News out of the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium offers understanding and insight into the future of breast cancer treatment and survivorship.

Fact is, every woman is at risk for breast cancer. Today, it is the most common cancer among women, other than skin cancer.[1] And, according to the American Cancer Society, almost 250,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year[2] and more than 40,000 women will die from the disease.[3] While there is much to be done, more than 2 million breast cancer survivors are alive today.

Among the top discussions at the Breast Cancer Symposium are two key studies focused on the value and appropriateness of extending anti-estrogen therapy for longer durations in breast cancer survivors with early stage ER+ breast cancer. Currently, these patients are routinely put on at least a five-year course of anti-estrogen therapy to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. The uncertainty arises at the critical five-year mark when doctors and patients must evaluate the decision to end therapy or continue for another five years.

Thanks, in part, to two key studies presented at the annual meeting, we will have a more robust understanding that breast cancer survivorship is not a five-year journey into the future, and an additional five years of anti-estrogen therapy may help prevent the risk of cancer recurrence in some women. However, in studies published to date, generally no more than five percent of women actually benefit from extending such therapy, and thought leaders encourage weighing the personal risk of cancer returning against the quality-of-life issues from anti-estrogen therapy, like significant menopausal symptoms and more serious issues like bone fractures and endometrial cancer, to help with decision-making.

New data shows the gene-expression test, Breast Cancer IndexSM (BCI), can help identify women whose risk of recurrence appears to be low by conventional clinical measures, but whose cancer biology tells a different story. The test assesses an individual woman’s risk of recurrence in the five-to-ten years following diagnosis and the likelihood of her benefitting from additional anti-estrogen therapy to reduce that risk. The ideal time to get tested is whenever discussions about how long anti-estrogen therapy will last arise or when a decision is needed about extending treatment further.