Category Archives: Breast Cancer

Breast cancer treatment… in reverse?

iStock_000009110043XSmallWith increased breast cancer awareness and the growing number of diagnostic tools available- including MRI, mammograms, and genetic testing- more and more women are diagnosed with precancerous breast tissue. And unnecessary surgery and treatments are becoming more common, because doctors can’t accurately tell which of these women will actually go on to develop cancer.

But instead of using a “better safe than sorry” approach, researchers want to be able to determine which genes drive breast cancer- and stop them! Because the genes in cells work together in complex and sometimes unexplained ways, simply looking at genes that are activated as cancer develops doesn’t always work.

Using a combination of science, mathematics and engineering, researchers pinpointed a gene that had the strongest statistical link to breast cancer (HoxA1) by reverse-engineering gene networks. And by using a novel therapy to block this gene, they were able to reverse cancer cells in culture as well as prevent cancer development in mice! Pretty amazing- check it out!

Could a breast cancer vaccine be possible?

iStock_000014540692XSmallBreast cancer treatment can come at such a huge cost that researchers are constantly looking for ways to prevent it. Could a breast cancer vaccine be possible?

In order to develop a vaccine, you need something to target- like a virus or bacteria. A virus called HMTV (human mammary tumor virus) is found in about 40% of breast tumors. Viruses can certainly cause cancer- look at HPV and Hepatitis B, for example.  If researchers determine that HMTV causes cancer (this is yet unknown), they would have a target for vaccine development. So yes, a vaccine could be possible.

While scientists are already using personalized cancer vaccines for breast cancer patients, made from a patient’s immune cells (in the hope of preventing tumors from spreading), a true vaccine that could prevent breast cancer cases caused by a virus would be life-changing.

New grants from the National Breast Cancer Coalition and the Avon Foundation for Women will help researchers look for clues within tumor genomes. And undoubtedly, mouse models of breast cancer will be extremely important in the understanding and possible development of such a vaccine.

Read more here:

Sharks may hold the key to breast cancer treatment

Photo from

Photo from

Breast cancer patients could one day be able to credit their survival to SHARKS! It has been known for years that sharks are resistant to cancer, and scientists are very interested in finding ways to understand the mechanisms behind this. Now, researchers are hoping to develop new drugs by using the antibodies found in shark blood!

To sum up the idea, certain molecules (called HER2 and HER3) are found in high levels in breast cancer and sit on the surface of cancer cells and signal them to grow and divide. The antibodies in shark blood have unique properties which could allow them to bind to these molecules and prevent this signaling process from occurring.

This 3-year study in Australia could lead to some interesting results… stay tuned!

Breast cancer linked to teen drinking?

FemaleWhile studies in the past have shown that alcohol can definitely be a factor in the development of breast cancer, recent research has found that women who started drinking at a younger age were 34% more likely to develop the disease than non-drinkers. 34%! That’s huge!

This study found this trend in women who consumed an average of one drink a day or more in the decade following the onset of their menstrual cycles. Women who started drinking at a young age and conceived their first child at a later age were at an even higher risk.

While the reasons for this aren’t quite understood yet, it seems that the amount of alcohol consumed before a woman becomes pregnant for the first time can really make a big difference in a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. More investigation is certainly warranted, but in the meanwhile, this new research may give your daughters an even better reason to avoid underage drinking and excessive alcohol consumption. 

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Breast cancer hope from an osteoporosis drug?

Heart framing on woman chest with pink badge to support breast cAn osteoporosis drug has been shown to stop the growth of breast cancer cells in both animal and cell culture studies! Bazedoxifene, a drug approved in Europe for osteoporosis treatment, was successful at inhibiting growth in breast cancer cells- even in cancer cells that proved to be resistant to the two most commonly used drugs currently used in breast cancer treatment (tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors). A variety of breast cancer cell types were tested, with promising initial results. And there is definitely a benefit in re-purposing a drug that is already on the market- bazedoxifene could be approved for use as a breast cancer treatment much sooner than drugs in early testing phases. Read more here:

Who are the people and animals behind the cures?

jenstoryThis is Jen. She is a researcher- and breast cancer survivor- who studies breast cancer in animals. Because of Jen, and researchers like her, you and your sister, mother, and daughter can have HOPE. Jen is a breast cancer survivor because of animal research, and her work and the work of other researchers allows the number of cancer survivors to grow each and every year.

Are you a survivor? Do you have a loved one who has beaten cancer? Please know that a cure would not be possible without these brilliant researchers and wonderful animals. Take a minute to watch a part of Jen’s story below- I hope it will give you a new appreciation for the work behind the scenes!

Video from the Foundation for Biomedical Research

Cancer treatments: Can cutting calories improve effectiveness?

iStock_small pastaNew research suggests that restricting calories may improve the success of certain cancer treatments.

When studying mouse models of human cancer, the mice that were calorie-restricted while receiving cancer treatment lived for much longer than the mice receiving cancer treatments alone!

When we eat, our bodies metabolize the food and then produce energy that assists in protein building. Limiting the production of certain proteins could be beneficial in some cases- specifically, proteins linked to cancer!

This is significant, because not only could this be a relatively easy way for patients to increase their chances of survival, but it could also lead to new research that could identify specific aspects of our diets that may be able to increase cancer cells’ sensitivity to treatment. Check it out!

Copperheads curing cancer?

CopperheadVenomous snakes, while usually beautiful, aren’t really the kind of animals that come to mind when we think of “animals helping people.” But researchers are discovering that proteins in snake venom could be extremely effective as cancer treatments!

To put it as simply as possible, cancer cells are problematic because they spread through the bloodstream, attach to new sites in the body, and signal new blood vessels to grow and supply them with nutrients.

Snake venom, on the other hand, is problematic because it prevents clotting and disrupts the nervous system. But it turns out that in addition to preventing clotting (by preventing platelets from attaching together), copperhead venom proteins also prevent cancer cells from attaching to other cells. AND- research showed that the venom also prevented cancer cells from signaling new blood vessel growth! In mouse studies, these proteins were very successful in preventing the spread of cancer cells.

The next step will be testing this protein compound on women with breast cancer. And don’t think it stops there- read more about the potential for snake venom to treat stroke, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s patients. Rattlesnakes, pit vipers, mambas- the amazing research taking place is yet another reason to be in awe of these beautiful animals!

Breast cancer patients: Lymphedema therapy proves successful in mice

The human lymphatic system

The human lymphatic system

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have discovered that a protein called IL-7 (a protein that regulates T-cells and is important in immune defense) could possibly be the answer to a treatment for lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition that is caused by impaired lymphatic system function. Breast cancer treatment is the most common cause of lymphedema in the U.S. (tumor removal often damages lymph tissue and vessels), but it also has other causes, including parasite infection. Characterized by swelling in the extremities, currently there is no treatment or cure for lymphedema, and patients must rely on physical therapy and compression of the affected extremity to relieve symptoms. In mouse studies, mice with functioning IL-7 receptors were shown to have much better lymphatic drainage than mice that were modified to lack a functioning IL-7 receptor. Mice with increased production of IL-7 showed an increase in lymphatic drainage, and normal, healthy mice given the protein also showed an improvement in lymphatic drainage function. Researchers can now use these findings to develop new experiments to possibly create a treatment with IL-7 that could either help prevent lymphedema or treat existing lymphedema. Is it is estimated that 140-250 million people are affected worldwide by lymphedema, so a potential for a new treatment is very encouraging. Even more encouraging is the fact that IL-7 is already being tested in clinical trials for other indications, so if further research shows promise, a treatment could be closer than you might think!