Advances in Breast Cancer Detection, Prevention and Treatment

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Breast cancer remains the leading form of cancer, as well as the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, in women.

Several recent developments represent significant advances in this field, including a new preventative therapy for ‘high-risk’ patients, advances in gene-based risk analysis, and new monoclonal antibody (MAb) therapy aimed at treating patients who overexpress the HER-2 protein.

Recent data from a major study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) indicate that tamoxifen (Nolvadex®; Zeneca; Cheshire, UK), and potentially raloxifene (Evista®; Eli Lilly; Indianapolis, IN), members of a class of steroid hormones called selective estrogen receptor modulators, may be useful for prevention of breast cancer in high-risk populations. Based on these data, an Advisory Committee convened by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended approval of tamoxifen for prevention of breast cancer.

Risk factors for the development of breast cancer include mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genes are now being used by Myriad Genetics and Eli Lilly in the development of diagnostics and therapeutics for breast cancer.

Although considerable advances have been made in diagnosing and treating early stage breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer continues to carry a dismal prognosis. The development of Herceptin™ (trastuzumab; Genentech; South San Francisco, CA), a MAb targeted to the HER-2 oncogene, is a significant new advance in the field of breast cancer treatment.

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