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NBCF highlights from the COSA breast cancer conference

November 24th, 2016

NBCF recently travelled to the sunny Gold Coast where a much anticipated breast cancer conference delivered the latest news and advances in breast cancer research and care.

Hosted by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) and the Australia & New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group, the program was jam-packed with research about better treatments for breast cancer, and how survivors – both women and men – can live well during and after their treatment.

With concurrent sessions over three days, it was impossible to hear every presentation, but we did our best to cover as many as we could, especially when NBCF-funded researchers were speaking. Here are our highlights…

Setting the scene

  • The main goal is to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer and modern treatments are the best way to do that –which means we must put more effort into ensuring more people have equitable access to treatment.
  • Treatment resistance is a major challenge for treating metastatic breast cancer. There is a need to identify the patients who do not respond well to treatment earlier so they are not subjected to additional toxic treatments and doctors can move quickly to the next potentially life-saving treatment.
  • Two really promising areas of research:
    • Genetic testing has huge potential for understanding the disease, but there is still a long way to go to get the full benefit from the information generated
    • Immunotherapy which aims to make cancer more recognisable to the immune system has worked in other cancers and now looks promising for breast cancer.

Treatment

  • It is likely that future treatments will involve a combination of therapies that include immunotherapy – the challenge is how to integrate them most effectively.
  • There is no guarantee that a single biopsy captures all the genetic mutations in a tumour. A liquid biopsy (e.g. blood test) could gather more information, more often, could help monitor for relapse, and could also gauge the patients response to the treatment.
  • Treatment resistance, when the treatment is no longer effective at killing cancer cells, is ultimately what threatens patients’ lives. Research that re-sensitises the cancer to the treatment is important, but resistant tumours are complex in their make-up so it’s challenging.
  • Exercise has been seen to help women taking aromatase inhibitor treatment, which stops the production of oestrogen in postmenopausal women. Exercise helps to keep them on the treatment by reducing the pain in their joints, a common side-effect of this treatment.

After treatment

  • A smoother transition out of the care system once initial treatment is finished and into self-supported management of longer-term treatment is important for better health outcomes.
  • Those who have had more invasive treatments (radiation, node biopsies/removal, surgery) are more likely to suffer upper body issues, such as stiffness, pain, numbness and lymphoedema. However, exercise can help with strength and function.

Male breast cancer

  • Breast cancer is considered a rare disease in men which means there are challenges with accurately diagnosing the disease. The knock-on effect is that men are usually diagnosed at a later stage, when the cancer is more advanced and treatments are less likely to be effective.
  • Men’s genetic risk is much lower than women’s even if there is a family history.

We found the COSA conference very insightful and we enjoyed seeing our funded researchers present their findings. Conferences are important events for researchers to make connections, hear each other’s work and launch collaborative ideas. We certainly came away better informed about the progress being made in breast cancer research and care.