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Research on Hard-To-Treat Cancers, Brinker Awards Presented at 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium

Breast cancer experts and advocates from around the world gathered virtually for the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium from Dec. 8-11 to share the latest updates on research and breast cancer advancements. This year, the conference convened with a dedicated focus to elevate discussions on health equity in breast cancer research and treatment.  

Among those recognized at this year’s conference were the 2020 Susan G. Komen Brinker Award recipients, Dr. Laura Esserman, M.D., M.B.A and Dr. Donald McDonnell, Ph.D. Both awardees have dedicated their lives to advancing breast cancer research, treatment and care.

Dr. Esserman received the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research and Dr. McDonnell received the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science.

Additionally, Komen Scholar Alumni Mary-Claire King was awarded the William L. McGuire Memorial Lecture Award this year. The award recognizes her groundbreaking research career in genetics, including her discovery that risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers can be inherited through a mutation of the BRCA1 gene.

Research findings shared from breast cancer clinical trials and pre-clinical studies show improved treatment options for individuals diagnosed with breast cancer.

One presentation on the monarchE trial showed that adding the CDK4/6 inhibitor drug abemaciclib to endocrine therapy improved outcomes for early-stage breast cancer patients at a high risk for recurrence.

A presentation by Dr. Zheqi Li, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow from the lab of Komen Scholars Dr. Steffi Oesterreich and Dr. Adrian Lee, found that a mutation in the estrogen receptor gene can directly contribute to tumor cells metastasizing. In these cases, a liquid biopsy detected more circulating tumor cells than in patients who did not have the mutation.

Komen Scholar Dr. Funmi Olopade discussed opportunities for implementing personalized medicine for underserved populations. She proposed genomics and artificial intelligence as tools to help address health inequities and improve survival for all.

Komen Scholar Dr. Reshma Jagsi discussed the importance of doctor-patient communication, especially for young patients and those from underrepresented populations. In a study comparing patient and physician reported radiotherapy symptoms, she found that over half of patients reported significant symptoms such as fatigue, pain, edema (swelling), and pruritis (extreme itching) whereas their physicians reported the same patients had none of these symptoms.

And finally, findings presented on the Komen-funded RxPONDER (Rx for Positive Node, Endocrine Responsive Breast Cancer) study showed that there was no benefit for chemotherapy treatment in post-menopausal patients with lymph node positive, hormone-receptor (HR)-positive HER2-negative breast cancer. These results suggest some women with this type of breast cancer can skip chemotherapy without negative effects. In contrast, premenopausal women did benefit from chemotherapy.

The RxPONDER study compliments the TAILORx study which showed that 70 percent of women with early-stage lymph node-negative, HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer could forgo chemotherapy without compromising outcomes. Both studies used the Oncotype DX® genomic test to assess risk and show that two patient populations can now safely avoid the side effects of chemotherapy.