CHICAGO:- Scientific advances have enabled better diagnosis and treatment for women with breast cancer, according to studies presented at the world's premier conference on cancer. "We've made tremendous progress in detecting and treating many cancers unique to women," Julie Gralow, assistant professor of oncology at the University of Washington, said on Sunday.
"The studies discussed today bring us even closer to the goal of getting the best possible results with the fewest side effects," Gralow said as she introduced a group of studies at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
Despite progress on the research front, the disease still kills half a million women around the world each year.
Research unveiled at the conference showed magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, proved more effective in detecting tumors for breast cancer patients than the traditional test using mammograms. The MRI scan found malignant tumors that mammograms had missed, according to results of a study conducted in Germany involving 6,000 women. The MRI scan spotted 40 percent of tumors that were undetected by mammograms, and 78 percent of those were of a highly aggressive category.
Mammogram x-rays detect an accumulation of calcium around tumors while the MRI scans uncover an abnormal growth of blood vessels.
While MRI tests appeared to be more effective, "more research is necessary before we can make specific recommendations about the use of breast MRI for DCIS (preinvasive breast cancer) in clinical practice," said Christian Kuhl, professor of radiology at the University of Bonn and the lead author of the study.
New research also showed clinical trials for the medicine Tykerb, developed by the British firm GlaxoSmithKline, had produced encouraging results in a group of 241 patients whose breast cancer had spread to the brain. After a treatment of six months with the Tykerb pill, seven percent of patients had their tumors reduced by at least 50 percent while 20 percent saw their tumors reduced by less than 50 percent.
Another study presented at the conference showed that Herceptin, a treatment that blocks the production of the HER2 protein which in excess can cause tumors to return, does not enhance the long-term danger of heart attacks. "While we need to continue monitoring patients closely for late cardiac effect, this is reassuring news for women taking this drug," said Priya Rastogi, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Compared to other cancers, there has been marked progress in the fight against breast cancer, particularly because of targeted treatments. But gains in survival rates, with a 2.3 percent reduction in deaths recorded in recent years, have not been shared equally in the United States among African-Americans and whites, said a new study published Sunday.
For women diagnosed between 1999 and 2003, whites survived for a median of 27 months compared to 17 months for black patients -- an eight percent difference, said the study by researchers at the University of Texas. More than 180,510 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and about 41,000 will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.