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What’s New in Breast Cancer Research?

October 30, 2018

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By Kim Polacek

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center and all over the world are uncovering new and improved ways to prevent, find and treat breast cancer. So what is new in breast cancer research? Here is a look at four areas where Moffitt scientists are conducting groundbreaking research:

Screening

Mammography is the best tool to diagnose breast cancer. During mammography, a radiologist reviews the images and assigns a score based on the Breast Imaging and Reporting Data System (BI-RADS). The scoring system ranges from 1 (negative) to 5 (highly suspicious of malignancy). Women who are designated BI-RADS 4 and 5 are sent for biopsy.

Breast biopsies are performed on 1.5 million women each year in the United States; however, only 20 percent of those biopsies come back with a diagnosis of cancer. Moffitt is hoping to reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies by developing new screening tools for breast cancer. Investigators have launched a study to analyze computer measurements from mammograms in combination with measurements from blood samples to make improved diagnostic decisions.

Viral Therapy

Moffitt is the first center investigating the use of the herpes virus to battle early-stage breast cancer. At Moffitt, the viral therapy clinical trials focus on triple negative breast cancer, which is more aggressive, more likely to recur and more difficult to treat because there is no targeted treatment. For this therapy, a modified form of the herpes simplex 1 virus called talimogene laherparepvec, or T-VEC, is injected directly into the tumor during chemotherapy and before surgery. The herpes simplex virus has been genetically modified to selectively replicate in the tumor and cause cancer cell destruction while leaving normal cells alone.

Therapeutic Vaccines

Vaccines are typically thought of as a preventative measure to protect against certain viruses, such as human papillomavirus or polio. However, researchers at Moffitt are working on vaccines to treat breast cancer. 

One type of vaccine being tested for the treatment of HER-2 and triple negative breast cancers is a dendritic cell vaccine. This personalized vaccine is created with dendritic cells from the patient. Dendritic cells are a type of immune cells that help the body recognize and break down cancer cells so that T cells can come and destroy them.

Another type of therapeutic vaccine is known as a peptide vaccine. The synthetic vaccine teaches the body to recognize cancer cells by exposing the immune system to harmless snippets of viral proteins. Upon vaccination, the body creates T cells that remember these proteins in case they are encountered again. Studies are underway at Moffitt using peptide vaccines in conjunction with Imfinzi (durvalumab), a checkpoint inhibitor that also works to boost the immune system, for patients with triple negative breast cancer.

Interventional Studies

Moffitt conducts a host of interventional studies looking at the effects cancer treatment has on breast cancer patients in hopes of improving quality of life for this group. Some patients experience cognitive impairment after treatment, such as difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness. It is a phenomenon called “chemo brain.”

Moffitt is pioneering a study to determine if mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) will help improve chemo brain, as well as physical and psychological issues that can arise after chemotherapy and radiation. MBSR is a stress reduction program that includes meditation, low impact yoga and body scans to observe any sensations in the various regions of the body while focusing attention on breathing.

A second cognitive study evaluates the effects of chemotherapy in conjunction with hormonal treatment in female breast cancer patients 60 years of age or older. More than half of women newly-diagnosed with breast cancer are over 60 years old. Yet there is limited data on how treatment can affect this group of patients. Moffitt researchers are hoping to learn more so new interventions can be developed to help this group of patients.

If you are interested in learning more about breast cancer studies at Moffitt, call 1-800-679-0775 or complete a clinical trials inquiry form.