Members of Komen’s Research, Evaluation and Scientific Teams were out in force at the recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, including Komen’s Scientific Grants Manager Anna Cabanes, who reports on a session about the importance of research into better ways to predict individual breast cancer risk for women with dense breasts.
A highlight of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium was a phenomenal session on breast density moderated by the Komen Scholar Melissa Bondy that included the experts in the breast density field.
Breast density has received a lot of attention in recent years, because it’s seen as one indicator of the potential to develop breast cancer later in life. Pre-menopausal women are more likely to have dense breasts (more tissue than fat), than post-menopausal women.
We know that – in general — women with high breast density, as seen on a mammogram, are 4-5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with low breast density. What we don’t fully understand is how and why that happens, or how to accurately predict which women with dense breasts are at high risk to develop breast cancer, and which are at low risk.
The experts in the San Antonio sessions discussed research being done to use biomarkers and genetics information to more accurately assess an individual’s risk. This is in line with the ongoing goal of breast cancer research toward individualized therapies for breast cancer patients, rather than the “one-size-fits-all” approach to breast cancer that prevailed for many years.
New laws in several states require mammography clinics to inform women about their breast density, and the San Antonio panel agreed that women should receive that information. But they cautioned that given what we know today, women should also be told that the ability to accurately predict an individual’s risk from dense breasts is modest at best.
Guest blog from Andrea Rader, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Managing Director, Communications
One of the biggest breast cancer conferences of the year gets underway tomorrow (Dec. 4) in San Antonio, Texas. The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, hosted by the American Association of Cancer Researchers (AACR) — and strongly supported by Susan G. Komen for the Cure — brings together thousands of researchers, clinicians and advocates from around the world to report on the latest in trends in breast cancer research and treatment.
We look forward to this every year, because it’s an opportunity to see the progress being made in research that we’ve funded (Susan G. Komen is the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research — $750 million in our 30 years), and trends in treatment and care.
We’re also pleased to see some of the outstanding leaders in breast cancer research receiving honors for their contributions to breast cancer science and care.
The recognition begins today — Convention Eve — when AACR presents its Outstanding Investigator Award to Kornelia Polyak, M.D., Ph.D., of Dana Farber Cancer Institute. The Outstanding Investigator Award is supported by a $10,000 grant from Komen to recognize investigators 50 or under whose work has had or may have a far-reaching impact on breast cancer. Dr. Polyak will present a 25-minute lecture, entitled Breast Tumor Evolution: Drivers and Clinical Relevance on Thursday. Dec. 6. Read more about Dr. Polyak.
On Wednesday, we will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of our Brinker Awards for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science and Clinical Research, with honors to an American clinician-scientist and an Israeli researcher.
This year’s award for Clinic Research will be presented to Hyman B. Muss, M.D., Professor of Medicine and the Director of the Geriatric Oncology Program at University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chapel Hill. Dr. Muss has been leading research and clinical care for older breast cancer patients for more than 30 years.
Yosef Yarden, Ph.D., of the Harold and Zelda Goldenberg Professor of Molecular Cell Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, will be honored with the Brinker Award for Basic Science. Prof. Yarden has been instrumental in advancing our understanding of the biology of growth factors and their receptors, and their role in human cancers. His research has been crucial to establishing growth factor receptors as prime targets for cancer drugs.
Both will present findings at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium Wednesday, Dec., 6, and honored at a reception that evening. Later this week, Dr. Muss and Prof. Yarden will share personal observations about their week in our Voices of Impact program.
Komen scientific staff, Komen Scholars, Advocates in Science and our Scientific Advisory Board will be out in force at the Symposium, and we’ll report on novel and interesting findings from the Symposium in this space during the week. Or follow the conversation using the conference hashtags #SABCS and #SABCS12 on Twitter!
One of the most important issues in breast cancer treatment is whether non-invasive breast cancers found with screening mammograms should be treated in the same manner as invasive breast cancer. At this point, we frankly don’t know which small tumors found on mammograms, called ductal carcinoma in situ (or DCIS), will progress to invasive and metastatic forms of breast cancer and which might resolve themselves without medical intervention.
It’s a big question, and there are valid concerns about over-diagnosis and overtreatment of DCIS. Left untreated, about 20 to 30 percent of low grade DCIS will progress to invasive breast cancer. But we can’t tell yet which tumors will actually progress, so DCIS is treated – with surgery and radiation – and sometimes systemic therapy because most women and their doctors aren’t willing to leave them to chance. More information on DCIS and recommended treatments.
This potential for overtreatment has been a huge concern at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is why we’ve invested more than $9 million into research to bring scientific certainty to this critical question. We were very pleased this week to see progress from our research grantees at Thomas Jefferson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, working with researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern, to identify genetic patterns involved in “turning on” or “turning off” the progression of cancer. Their findings could eventually lead to a genetic test to help doctors and women decide whether aggressive treatment for DCIS is warranted (Los Angeles Times report on this study).
While more study is certainly needed, these recent findings are exciting because they will lead to better, more personalized treatment for more than 50,000 women estimated to be diagnosed with DCIS each year. This should allow some to avoid aggressive treatment entirely, while appropriately treating women at higher risk.
This research resulted from a Komen Career Catalyst Grant awarded in 2008 to Dr. Agnieszka Witkiewicz. It is just part of our $30 million investment into early detection research, aimed at finding more sensitive, cost-effective and convenient screening methodologies, and more accurately determining which tumors may progress and which won’t.
George W. Sledge, MD, Indianapolis
“We are all part of the ‘Great Weave’ of breast cancer research, the chain of knowledge linking the past and the future.”
“Cancer will likely be cured at the water cooler, not the laboratory, when one researcher approaches another and asks ‘What are you working on?’”
“Komen’s role is not just at a funder of research, but as a convener of researchers.”
I have been involved with breast cancer research for over three decades now, and the most important lesson I have learned is that being a breast cancer researcher involves being a link in a chain, or perhaps (a somewhat broader metaphor), one thread in a very large weave.
I received my training in breast cancer from Dr. Bill McGuire at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Bill McGuire was one of the great breast cancer researchers of his day, an expert in estrogen receptor testing at a time when that was the cutting-edge technology transforming breast cancer care. Bill also was a founding father of the breast cancer biomarker field.
At a time when the field was concentrating on delivering ever-higher doses of ever-more complicated chemotherapy regimens, Bill taught me the importance of biology in breast cancer: biology was destiny for breast cancer patients, and changing their destiny involved first understanding and then altering breast cancer biology. It is a common view today, but at the time it was a new way of looking at breast cancer therapy.
Bill McGuire was one of the very first investigators to be funded by Komen, back in the early 1980’s when I was still a fellow. Komen has a track record of funding excellent investigators, a track record that stretched back decades. Today Komen funds great senior investigators (many of them our Komen Scholars) as well as many of the new and junior investigators who represent the future of breast cancer research: we are all part of the “Great Weave” of breast cancer research, the chain of knowledge linking the past and the future.
My own research has benefited from this “Great Weave.” I have had the good fortune, throughout my career, to benefit from the collaboration of large numbers of people who care passionately about the breast cancer problem. My research (particularly my cooperative group work) has relied on a veritable army of physicians, nurses, data managers, statisticians, and (most importantly of all) patients. Behind all of them, of course, stand the great organizations, both government and private, that fund the research.
The “Great Weave” is both intellectual (the knowledge we have obtained regarding the biology of breast cancer) and social (the army of researchers and patients). It stretches backward in time (my mentor Bill McGuire learned from his mentors) and forward (my trainees, such as Komen Scholar Kathy Miller and Komen Promise Award recipient Bryan Schneider, and my colleague Anna Maria Storniolo, director of the Komen Tissue Bank). It stretches around the world: we are an international community.
The public often views science as a lonely pursuit: the laboratory scientist laboring at a bench, Isaac Newton-like creatures operating in the lofty realms of pure thought in the Groves of Academe. What real-life researchers learn, early in their careers, is that science (and particularly medical science) is, to an impressive degree, a social construct. Great science is the product of the scientific marketplace, ideas bouncing off each other, being refined through interaction, being judged (literally) by committees of one’s peers. Cancer will likely be cured at the water cooler, not the laboratory, when one researcher approaches another and asks “what are you working on?”
Komen’s role is not just at a funder of research, but as a convener of researchers. We bring researchers together at our Scientific Advisory Board, at our Komen Scholars meeting, in our study sections that judge the merits of grants, and in the grant applications themselves (for instance, through the consortia that make up our Promise awards). We are an eminently social organization: we actively create the “Great Weave” of breast cancer research.
And that is why I love working with Komen for the Cure.
Most people knew him as J.R. Ewing on Dallas. We remember him as Larry Hagman, a North Texas native who loaned his star status to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in our very early days. Hagman died last Friday at the age of 81, and our founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker remembers him in this op-ed in The Dallas Morning News today.
Nancy Brinker: Larry Hagman was J.R. and a whole lot more
Published: 26 November 2012 10:40 PM, Dallas Morning News
It’s a fitting tribute to Larry Hagman’s talent that I sometimes had to step back to remember that J.R. Ewing was not Larry Hagman.
Larry’s most famous role as the malevolent and conniving J.R. Ewing in the iconic series Dallas captivated viewers in more than 90 countries, but perhaps no more so than in the city that gave the series its name. Like millions of people, I watched Dallas in eager anticipation of the sinister smile and the almost limitless treachery of Larry’s character. When he reprised the role this summer, I was one of many who couldn’t wait for a weekly fix of J.R. More than 20 years later, Larry’s J.R. didn’t disappoint.
J.R. was a far cry from the Larry Hagman we knew here in North Texas, the Weatherford native who readily agreed to lend his star status to a number of causes: anti-smoking, organ donation, solar power — and in the 1980s, a little-known breast cancer organization, just getting its start, that would grow to become Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
When I heard that Larry had died of complications from throat cancer last week, I couldn’t help but remember the tremendous service that he and his delightful wife, Maj, provided to women through their early support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure here in our hometown of Dallas, TX. We opened our doors in 1982, and Larry and Maj were ready to help. He rode the pace car in our earliest Dallas races. He recruited men to the cause. He donated J.R.’s signature cowboy hat (in true J.R. style, more than once) to help us raise the funds that got Komen for the Cure off the ground.
His smile and the accompanying twinkle in his eye were genuine. Larry was very, very funny, and he and Maj were welcome additions to any gathering. Behind his mirth was an unerring devotion to health causes. My son, Eric, remembers even today the miniature fans that Larry carried to blow smoke back into the faces of those who dared to light up around him.
Larry went on to chair the Great American Smokeout and recorded public service ads against smoking. He advocated for organ donation and served as an official spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation’s transplant campaigns after his diagnosis with liver cancer and a liver transplant in 1995.
The depth and breadth of his fame was never more apparent than when Larry and Maj visited me in Hungary, where I served as U.S. ambassador in the early 2000s. Years had passed since Dallas left the airwaves, and yet it was still one of the most popular series on Hungarian television. Larry met the man who was responsible for translating the shows into Hungarian and greeted fans with great humor and warmth. It was amazing to see the reach of the show — and the man.
That’s one of the reasons I was so happy to see Larry back in Dallas to film the new Dallas series. In characteristic fashion, he assured his fans that he was feeling optimistic about his health despite his recent throat cancer diagnosis and that he couldn’t wait to bring J.R. back.
There was something comforting in seeing J.R. on the TV screen again. Dallas — both the series and the city — will never be quite the same, but we will both be a little richer for having Larry in our lives.
Thank you, Larry, for a life well-lived and for sharing it with all of us.