Annual Breast Cancer Summit highlights patient care
Saturday at the North Campus Research Complex, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center Breast Oncology and Community Outreach Programs hosted the fourth annual Breast Cancer Summit. The summit was aimed at individuals currently being treated for breast cancer, those who survived breast cancer, those at high risk and those interested in prevention.
For women in the United States, breast cancer is the second most deadly type of cancer, according to nonprofit breastcancer.org. In 2016, it is estimated there will be more than 40,000 deaths from breast cancer. It is also the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, with approximately 307,000 new cases in 2016. It is estimated that about 12 percent of U.S. women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.
The theme of the morning discussion, titled “How Decisions are Made in Breast Cancer Treatment,” was precision medicine, in which each individual patient’s genetic, environmental and lifestyle variability are considered in making a decision.
UM CCC Director Theodore Lawrence said contrary to popular belief, precision medicine can focus on the patient to make the fight with cancer the best it can be, instead of just precision medicine focusing mostly on the genetics of the tumor.
“I think precision medicine is more than just genes,” Lawrence said. “It goes all the way from understanding the tumor, to understanding that tumor within the patient, to understanding that patient’s social situation, and how can we make the individual patient’s journey (with breast cancer) the best it could possibly be.”
During the discussion, panelists emphasized that decisions in breast cancer diagnoses and treatment are made as a multidisciplinary approach, and said each step of a decision is important for the following step. For example, the characteristics of a patient’s tumor are important for deciding which treatment options to pursue.
Lynn Henry, associate professor of Internal Medicine, said the specific details of the diagnosis, such as how big or invasive the tumor is, could inform the doctors on treatment options.
“For this particular patient (for example), because she has a large tumor and it’s aggressive, we give chemotherapy,” Henry said, pointing to a specific case.
Radiation Oncology Professor Lori Pierce added that though the majority of breast cancer patients do not need radiation treatments, patients with a risk of recurrence — when cancer returns either in same or different tissues — are recommended to receive it.
“The majority of patients would not need radiation because for the majority of patients, the tumor would be completely removed with excellent surgery,” Pierce said. “It’s the patients who are deemed to be at moderate to high risks for having a recurrence … are the ones we would recommended radiation for.”
Similarly, Pathology Prof. Celina Kleer emphasized that everyone’s tumors are biologically different, so no single treatment works for every patient.
“I showed you a picture of one woman’s breast cancer, but if I show you a picture of another patient’s breast cancer, it looks completely different,” Kleer said. “Some tumors express different proteins and have different biological characteristics.”
UM CCC nurse practitioner Kelly Scheu noted the importance of individualized patient support during and after the treatment, citing available supportive care available for patients including mental health support.
“There’s a lot that goes into talking to your patients and trying to support them,” Scheu said. “Pills can help, but talking is very helpful.”
Post-baccalaureate student Caroline Arellano-Garcia said she attended the summit because she is familiar with the research, but not the treatment aspect of the disease.
“I didn’t realize the emotional and psychological impact (the disease) has on the women,” Arellano-Garcia said.
Arellano-Garcia noted that since she is a Latina, that information could be particularly important to relay to her community. Hispanic/Latina women are on average diagnosed with more advanced breast cancers than white women, possibly due to lower mammography rates and delays following-up abnormal mammograms, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
“I feel that in my community, there might be a lot of ignorance,” Arellano-Garcia said. “I can relay the message on the importance of knowing about the disease.”