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The unmet needs in breast cancer treatment

Despite the number of therapy options available, breast cancer remains incurable, a major cause of mortality in women



Breast cancer is a debilitating and fatal illness that has taken the lives of so many women around the world. Most, if not all of them, possibly tried all types of treatments and lifestyle modification in the hopes of emerging victoriously from their battle with the Big C. Unfortunately, there is no miracle pill in existence nor is there a specific way of eating that can truly beat breast cancer.

Breast cancer development can be triggered by any of these three factors: the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or a gene known as human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2). A particular form of breast cancer that is not triggered by any of the three factors is known as triple-negative breast cancer. TNBC represents approximately 15 percent of all breast cancers. It is more common among women under the age of 50 compared with other forms of breast cancer.

And as if breast cancer isn’t bad enough, being diagnosed with TNBC is like a death sentence. “Women with metastatic TNBC have higher recurrence rates and generally experience rapid progression with shorter average overall survival of only nine to 12 months compared to other subtypes of breast cancer,” said Dr. Christina G. Galvez, consultant medical oncologist at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) and past president of the Philippine Breast Cancer Society (PBCS) during the 10th Breast Cancer Symposium held recently at the Makati Diamond Residences. There is currently no national registry and limited local data on TNBC, which is another unmet need in this disease area.

Women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) often have limited treatment options, primarily chemotherapy. Furthermore, hormonal therapies have helped improve survival rates for women with other types of breast cancer. Unfortunately, TNBC does not respond to hormonal therapies. It does respond to chemotherapy. Cancer cells, however, can develop resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. Chemotherapy also has its drawback on the patient as it kills healthy cells along with cancer cells, thus resulting in various adverse effects ranging from mild to serious.

But just like a light at the end of a dark tunnel, there are effective novel therapies that could benefit patients suffering from this aggressive and difficult-to-treat cancer. “Treatment of metastatic TNBC is moving beyond chemotherapy with the emergence of immunotherapy, a class of treatment that takes advantage of a person’s own immune system to help kill cancer cells,” said Dr. Galvez.

“Cancer immunotherapy has the potential to be used as a foundational combination partner with other immunotherapies, targeted medicines, and various chemotherapies across a broad range of cancers. Its development is based on our greater understanding of how the immune system interacts with tumors and how harnessing a person’s immune system combats cancer more effectively,” explained Dr. Diana M. Edralin, country medical director, Roche (Philippines), Inc.

The body truly has the ability to heal itself because it possesses the natural doctor, the immune system, within. Unfortunately, women with compromised and weak immune system are easy targets for cancer cells. Immunotherapy does not only kill cancer cells. It boosts the body’s natural defenses in order to defeat cancer without damaging healthy cells.

“Roche has been advancing breast cancer research and development for more than 30 years with the goal of helping as many people with the disease as possible,” said Dr. Edralin.

Breast cancer patients seeking other forms of treatments should openly discuss their options with their oncologists. Do not hesitate to ask even if it seems like an absurd question to you. It is your body. You have every right to know everything before making a choice.

“PD-L1 and other actionable biomarkers identify patients who are likely to benefit from new treatment options. Therefore, biomarker testing such as PD-L1 should be a standard test upon diagnosis of metastatic TNBC to enable patients to benefit from immunotherapy,” stressed Dr. Galvez.

If you are experiencing any symptoms such as breast lumps and tenderness, please consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and management.

Featured image courtesy of Trina Dalziel/Getty Images

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