Making Strides to End Breast Cancer

On Saturday, October 24th we’ll join approximately 4,000 other walkers in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 3.1 mile walk across the Ford Island Bridge. When you join breast cancer survivors, family and friends on the Richardson field bright and early in the morning something special happens. With a bright pink explosion of confetti everywhere as the walk begins, you see signs of joy and hope, support and encouragement in the faces of the walkers. It’s also a time for families to mourn those lost too soon to a disease that still affects so many here in Hawaii. It’s very moving to see all the supportive family (including men and tiny infants) bedazzled in pink. Pink is a great symbol for October’s breast cancer awareness campaign, as to me it conveys a bright future as we work on eradicating a disease that takes too many. In the past 20 years, death rates from breast cancer have declined some 32 percent. That’s in part due to the excellent research from the American Cancer Society.

When I was younger, I remember the breast cancer awareness education. You were to check your breast monthly for changes, start your annual mammogram at 40. These were things on my “to do” list when I got older. But not everyone is a statistic, some will get cancer outside of the recommendations and recently the recommendations have softened to screening later and less often. It made me think, what signs should we look for to know if you need to see the doctor? 

How do you know if it’s breast cancer?

Most will find a new lump so it’s good to know your body. If you know a lump or mass is new or something feels different, make an appointment and get it checked. I knew a friend that found cancer in-between her yearly mammograms. She found a new lump one day during a monthly exam that was successfully treated and that really made me think, what if she didn’t find it so early?

According to the American Cancer Society, here are other symptoms to look for:

Swelling of the breast (even if you don’t feel a lump) 

Skin irritation or dimpling 

Breast or nipple pain

Nipple turning inward 

Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin 

Nipple discharge (other than breast milk) 

You should also have any swelling in the lymph nodes under your arms checked out by a doctor as sometimes that can be a sign of breast cancer. 

What’s new in treatment research?

Although treatment has improved, breast cancer still affects 1 in 8 women here in the U.S., so research is still needed. The usual treatment of women with estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer with the drug tamoxifen works for most. But what if you’re part of the unlucky third of patients that have tumors that adapt to an estrogen-free environment and continue to grow?

Well, there is ongoing research to target tumors that continue to grow despite the lack of estrogen. A signaling protein P13K has been found that drives breast cancer cell growth. Research is ongoing to see if that pathway could be shut off and effectively stop breast cancer cells from growing. 

Unfortunately, so far the research is not impressive. But, scientists feel it may be the dosing schedule that is inhibiting the success of drug trials to stop the protein. If they were to stop the drug and intensify the dose then the patient would get more of the treatment all at once and have time off in-between cycles of the drug to lessen side effects. For now, the researchers are looking for a drug company to launch an experimental phase 1 clinical trial with a different dosing schedule to find optimal benefits with less negative side effects. For early and treatable breast cancer, being cured with surgery works great. But for those with metastatic ER-positive breast cancer, these drugs could help and funding such research is still very valuable. If you’re interested in donating, see the American Cancer Society.