Breast Cancer Innovations: The power of information

Cancer can grow anywhere in the human body, but we often hear of certain types that are more likely to metastasize, or spread. Breast cancer is one of those, and the reason lies in the proximity to the body’s lymph nodes. If breast cancer metastasizes, it can easily and quickly spread. This is why early and frequent screenings are critical in helping women stave off the disease.

Since the late 90s, mortality rates among women diagnosed with breast cancer have steadily decreased. Research points to increased mammography screenings as a contributor in the increased survival rates. What we are learning now is that there are numerous genetic mutations, each of which causes the cells to act differently and has a direct impact on how standard methods of treatment work. In discovering the different mutations, researchers have also begun working to develop tools that help doctors determine risk factors based on genetic makeup, family history, and even environmental factors; identify the mutations during initial screenings and testing; and develop therapies that target specific mutations.

BRCA 1 and 2 are two genetic mutations common to breast cancer that are more widely known by the public thanks to their presence in news headlines, specifically the willingness of high-profile women who have the mutations to share their stories and a Supreme Court ruling on the patentability of genes. Vanderbilt, and a number of other research institutions, can use these genetic mutations in determining a patient’s risk factor and also in determining the best course of treatment.

But BRCA is just one of many different possible mutations discovered in recent years. More mutations equals more information which ultimately means more data to dig through and interpret. A team of oncologists at Vanderbilt saw the need to catalog the data that was being generated - for breast cancer and many other types of cancers - into a single online database, My Cancer Genome. Their idea was really to help physicians, patients, caregivers and researchers have fast and easy access to an up-to-date personalized cancer medicine resource. What makes My Cancer Genome different than other similar resources is that it is absolutely cutting edge. New knowledge is added as it is discovered by experts in the field around the world. It focuses on actionable, targeted and precise decision support. My Cancer Genome simplifies the process making it easier and faster for the physician to treat the patient.

Ongoing genomics studies and innovations like My Cancer Genome are having a significant impact on the world. Risk assessments, detection, diagnosis, and treatment have all advanced. But the fact that remains the same is that early detection is critical. The sooner you know, the better the outcome.