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In Case You Missed It: Episode 5, 6/5/20

There’s been a lot of news lately. So much news that if you haven’t been following every headline, every day of the week, you might have missed something.

But that’s why I’m here. As the Manager of Research Programs at Susan G. Komen, I’ve been keeping up with latest in breast cancer research news.

Here’s some important things you might have missed:

The annual American Society of Clinical Oncology, also known as ASCO, meeting was held virtually this past weekend. This is just one of many meetings that brings together scientists, clinicians, and patient advocates to discuss the latest in cancer research. One of the main themes at this year’s ASCO meeting was treatment escalation vs. treatment de-escalation.

So, what does this mean?

Treatment escalation is when you add a treatment or increase the treatment dose or frequency because an individual is at a higher risk of having their cancer spread or return later.

Treatment de-escalation is the opposite. Some patients are at lower risk of having a tumor spread or return, so they may decide with their doctors to reduce the treatment dose or the number of treatments they receive.

In cancer treatment, a common thought is that ‘more is better’ but that’s not always the case. Some treatments have significant side effects but offer little or no benefit to the individual. So, if you can de-escalate treatment without compromising patient survival, it’s often associated with better quality of life.

Patients should always discuss their individual treatment plans with their doctors, as the decision to escalate or de-escalate treatment depends upon many factors.

Also covered at this year’s ASCO meeting were results from many other clinical studies.

For example, the TRAIN-2 clinical trial examined the impact of adding a type of drug called anthracyclines to chemotherapy before surgically removing a tumor for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer.

This trial showed patients who received anthracyclines had no improvement in survival and, in fact, experienced toxic side effects. In this case, this trial provided evidence this treatment can be de-escalated without compromising patient survival, with the added benefit of avoiding its side effects.

Another major theme of this year’s ASCO meeting is the need for more treatment options for patients with metastatic breast cancer. In our very first episode of In Case You Missed It, we talked about FDA approval of a new drug, called tucatinib, that helps improve survival for patients with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. While this drug was approved by the FDA, patients from the trial are still being monitored.

These follow up results continue to show the remarkable benefit of tucatinib, including patients whose breast cancer had spread to the brain. This is important because these individuals are often excluded from clinical trials and really need more treatment options. It’s also a good example of how escalating treatment shows great benefit to a patient population.

What I touched on today is just a small portion of the exciting new discoveries that were presented at this year’s ASCO meeting. Research and clinical trials continue to move forward and help inform patient care and improve survival and quality of life for those with breast cancer.

I look forward to seeing what new discoveries come out in the future and sharing with you!