As an oncologist and a survivor herself, Dr. Marisa Weiss knows the urgency felt by those diagnosed with breast cancer. Genetic testing has accelerated the pace of innovation.
“The treatments for breast cancer are really getting very tailored,” she says. “One of the things we learned about breast cancer is that it’s not one disease; there are different types of breast cancer that behave very differently and are treated differently.”
As Breast Cancer Awareness month begins, Weiss, the founder of BreastCancer.org, tells Metro how the field has changed in the last year and what’s on the horizon.
Where do we stand?
“Breast cancer used to be an uncommon disease 100 years ago; it has since become the most common cancer to affect women: 29 percent of all cancers in women start in the breast. We are not making headway in terms of the incidence of breast cancer, but our methods of detection have improved, giving us more precise tools for finding it early, when it’s most treatable.”
What’s new in the field?
“Just over a year ago, Angelina Jolie shared her personal story about having the BRCA1 gene in her family, and so there is the Angelia Effect: About twice the number of women are getting genetic testing now than before. Still, genetic testing is drastically underutilized. In addition, the Supreme Court took the patents off the [BRCA] genes, which allowed many more companies to come into the marketplace to test for BRCA1/2 as well as other genes. They also brought the price down.”
How have treatments changed?
“As our understanding grows about what is producing cancer and how we can most effectively get rid of it, the options are also expanding and designed to be tailored to each individual. So that’s tricky when you’re painting a diagnosis ‘cause there’s no one size fits all, and you can’t just do what your best friend did; it may not apply to you.”
What looks promising?
“There are the different cells that make up one cancer that require different forms of treatment that work in different ways.What’s driving these advancements is trying to better understand the genes and proteins that turn on and turn off breast cancer growth, as well as their ability to behave in certain ways, like invade normal tissue.”
Facts & figures
• Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed worldwide, with 1.7 million new cases in 2012.
• It accounts for one in every four cancer cases in women globally.
• More than 6.3 million breast cancer survivors are alive todayworldwide.