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Cutting-Edge Breast Cancer Therapy

Tailor-Made Treatments
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Hitting the Target continued...

Hormonal cancer medications even work as preventative medicine: the FDA has recently approved the use of Tamoxifen in women who don’t yet have breast cancer but are at high risk of developing it within a few years.

ER and PR positive cancers aren’t the only targets. Some cancers, instead, have particularly high levels of a protein called HER2. The drug Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody, attacks this protein and effectively fights the cancer. Herceptin has proven so useful that it’s being moved earlier and earlier in the treatment regimen; several studies have shown the Herceptin is highly effective (when combined with a cancer drug called Navalbene) in women with early breast cancer even before surgery.

And experts predict that these targeted therapies are just the beginning. "There's much more beyond HER2 and ER-PR status," says Winer. "The hope is that we'll be able to identify a greater number of subtypes of breast cancer, and ... we'll have a much clearer sense of the benefits of different kinds of treatments. At the same time, that information is going to allow us to develop new and more targeted treatments."

Search and Destroy

One of the most promising areas of breast cancer research is targeted therapeutics. These treatments send toxic cancer-killing agents directly to tumor cells, avoiding the "fallout" damage to healthy cells that happens with broad-range chemotherapies and radiation. The more that's known about the differences in genetic makeup among cancers, the more targets can be identified.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco's Comprehensive Cancer Center are in clinical trials with a new technology called immunoliposomes, developed by researchers John Park, MD, and Christopher Benz, MD.

"It's a molecule comprised of a lipid [fat] ball containing a therapeutic agent, such as a chemotherapy drug," explains study leader Joe Gray, PhD, professor of laboratory medicine. According to Gray, the approach will use an antibody that seeks out a specific protein found only on the surface of cancer cells. The antibody will deliver the lipid ball into the cancer cell, where it will release its toxic contents -- the drug -- and kill the cancer.

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