Conference hears about new and innovative breast cancer treatments

The latest in new and innovative breast cancer treatments and recent developments to empower patients were discussed at the Australia New Zealand Breast Cancer Clinical Trials Group (ANZBCTG) conference in Australia.

Five BCAC committee members attended the conference which focused on the theme Partners for Progress in Breast Cancer Research and Care.

BCAC chairperson, Libby Burgess, says the meeting provided a comprehensive overview of the latest in breast cancer research and new treatment options.

She says screening has contributed to reducing breast cancer mortality, but future advances are predicted to be in smarter, more targeted treatments, with immunotherapy likely to provide exciting options over the next few years.

“As researchers develop better prognostic tools and a deeper understanding of breast cancer sub-types, some patients may be spared chemotherapy, radiotherapy or the surgical removal of lymph nodes, without increasing their risk of recurrence,” she says

Advances of particular interest include:  

  • The use of cutting-edge diagnostics, including genetic analysis, to define and track different subtypes of breast cancer
  • Breast conserving surgery and whether it is appropriate for specific subtypes, grades and stages of breast cancer.
  • The use of chemotherapy prior to surgery (neo-adjuvant therapy) for an increasing sub-set of patients.
  • The success of targeted treatments such as antibodies, pathway inhibitors and hormone treatments.
  • The level and combination of chemotherapy required, including new and advanced treatments, such as immunotherapies.
  • The development of resistance to drugs and how this can be overcome.
  • Preventative treatments to reduce the risk of recurrence including, energetics and nutrition, green prescription programmes, prophylactic mastectomy, anti-estrogen therapy and monitoring for early detection through targeted screening technologies.
  • The need to fully assess older patients to select the best types and level of treatment for each, as these women tend to be undertreated, leading to worse outcomes

BCAC committee member, Fay Sowerby, says there was a particular focus at the meeting on new evidence supporting the role of exercise and nutrition in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Other sessions focused on issues that can arise during and after breast cancer treatment.  The University of Southampton’s Deborah Fenlon identified survivorship issues such as:

  • poor general health
  • decreased physical activity
  • lower workforce participation
  • poorer cognitive function
  • poorer emotional well-being.

She said self-management has been shown to enhance quality of life and this has been picked up on in the UK, with the development of a “recovery package” for those who’ve had breast cancer. Cancer nurses can play a vital role in helping women avoid or manage treatment side effects and in providing psychological support.

Another thoughtful session harnessed a trio of multidisciplinary clinicians from psychiatry, medicine and nursing to confront the management of depression, fear of cancer recurrence, menopausal symptoms and cognitive decline in women recovering from breast cancer treatment.

These sessions were developed further with a look at a range of e-technologies now available to help patients manage the various psychosocial side-effects of cancer, including issues with sexuality, anxiety, depression and cancer-related distress.

There was also a timely discussion on “financial toxicity” in cancer care which refers to patients who have to spend a substantial amount of their income on health care costs.

This is something that is becoming more relevant in New Zealand where more and more women are forced to pay for new breast cancer medicines that are not publicly funded.

There was also a presentation about mammographic density and new findings that have shown that high breast density can increase the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 25 per cent.  

This has raised concerns about the need for targeted and supplementary screening for this new at-risk group and is an area that is yet to be addressed in New Zealand.  

You can read more about the Australia New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group here.


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