Looking for the latest on breast cancer treatments? Be ready for a flood of data. News about breast cancer treatments makes headlines. So if you search for "breast cancer drug" in the news section of Google alone, you'll get more than 1,000 results -- and these are just news articles posted within the last several weeks. But how do you sort through the mountains of information to tell if a new breast cancer therapy is right for you, right now?
Read news articles with a skeptical eye. There are caveats in any breaking story about a new breast cancer treatment. Keep an eye out for these details:
Does the story say how large the trial of the new treatment was? (If it only involved a couple of dozen patients, much larger studies will likely be needed to confirm any results.)
Does it mention what type of breast cancer was involved -- early stage or late stage, hormone-receptor positive or hormone-receptor negative?
Has the new treatment been approved by the FDA, or is it still in clinical trials?
Know your pathology report. Is your cancer hormone-receptor positive or negative? Are you HER2neu positive or negative? Does your cancer have lymph-node involvement or not?
New therapies are often targeted at a specific type of breast cancer. Knowing about these and other factors in your own case can help you tell if a new breast cancer treatment option is likely to be an option for you.
Consider the source. Do you know where the new research comes from? Major, peer-reviewed medical journals, such as The New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of Clinical Oncology, are good sources. So are the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. If the only source of the information appears to be a company pushing a new drug, herbal remedy, or other treatment, be wary.
Try to get a copy of the study itself. A short, headline-grabbing news articles about the study isn't going to tell you enough. You can search Medline and other databases of medical journals online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Literature/index.html, or go to a nearby medical school's library to review copies of medical journals.
If you can't get a copy or if the science-speak is too hard to read, visit www.breastcancer.org and check out the "Research News and Ask the Experts" section. You'll find a monthly research update on new breast cancer studies that breaks down the information into easy-to-read messages.
Take the study to your doctor. Gather your notes and write down questions for the next time you meet with your oncologist. Your doctor should welcome your questions and be willing to talk about the new study with you.
Published March 2005. SOURCES: Clifford Hudis, MD, chief, Breast Cancer Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York. Claudine Isaacs, MD, director, Clinical Breast Cancer Program, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C. Aman Buzdar, MD, deputy chair, department of breast and medical oncology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. Breastcancer.org.