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March 15, 2011 > Learn About New Research and Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

Learn About New Research and Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

Women's Center Lecture Will Explore Advanced Therapies

Last year in the U.S., more than 260,000 women learned they have breast cancer, the most common cancer among American women today. According the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly one in every eight women will have invasive breast cancer at some time during her life.

These are frightening statistics. The good news is that, over the last 20 years, many new and effective breast cancer treatments have become available. Right now, reports the ACS, there are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. However, progress in the battle against this dreaded disease has presented new, daunting challenges for patients, loved ones and women in general.

"For most people a diagnosis of breast cancer is initially terrifying, and clear thinking seems impossible," says Laura A. Siminoff, PhD, in her article "Making Decisions," published in the book Choices in Breast Cancer Treatment, edited by Kenneth D. Miller, M.D.

"First there is the diagnosis. Then there are all these medical terms coming at you, all these statistics. And there are so many options," continues Siminoff who is chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Promotion at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Public Health.

To help women in the Tri-City area understand more about breast cancer and the latest treatments, the Washington Women's Center will sponsor a free seminar, "Learn About Triple Negative Breast Cancer" on Wednesday, March 23 from Noon to 1 p.m. Vandana B. Sharma, M.D., medical director of Washington Hospital's Cancer Genetics Program, will be the featured presenter.

During the upcoming seminar, Dr. Sharma will discuss the standard treatments available for the different breast cancer subtypes, as well as explore cutting edge experimental therapies.

"Today, our knowledge of cancer has evolved to the point that we now understand breast cancer is not a single disease. There are multiple different subtypes," says Dr. Sharma. "By understanding and identifying these different subtypes customized treatment plans can be developed for individual patients. I want to help women understand the difference between normal and cancerous breast tissue and the various subtypes of the disease."

The growing body of knowledge about breast cancer treatment includes new and detailed information that can be confusing to patients trying to understand their disease and make decisions about treatment. Fortunately, some of this knowledge now helps doctors to tailor individual therapies for breast cancer patients, leading to improved outcomes.

When a woman has breast cancer, a biopsy is taken and the tissue analyzed to gather every possible detail about the cancer cell. One aspect pathologists study is whether the cell expresses a receptor that can make it more treatable with certain hormones. A third molecule that may be present is called HER2/neu, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. HER2/neu is found in about 25 percent to 30 percent of breast cancers.

"For women who have breast cancer that is positive for the estrogen- or progesterone-receptor or the HER2/neu receptor, there are some very effective treatment options," explains Dr. Sharma. "However, if the cancer is negative for all three receptors, it is called triple negative breast cancer, which is a particularly aggressive form of the disease. Up to now, treatment options for this type of breast cancer have been limited to chemotherapy."

At the seminar, Dr. Sharma will give an update on the latest breast cancer treatment advances, including the exciting new molecularly targeted "smart bombs" that can deliver toxic drug therapy inside the breast cancer cell. This treatment will hopefully be available soon. She will also discuss the immediate and long term side effects of different breast cancer treatments.

"Breast cancer patients, their loved ones and women in general will find this seminar extremely valuable," adds Kathy Hesser, R.N., coordinator of the Washington Women's Center. "Dr. Sharma is very good at explaining complicated data. During the class, she will take information that can be confusing, even frightening, and turn it into something clear and understandable."

Sign Up for the Class Online

The free class will take place inside the Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditorium, Room C, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. To reserve your spot, go online to and look under Upcoming Seminars, or call (800) 963-7070. The Washington Women's Center offers an environment in which collaborative health screenings, diagnostic and educational programs are tailored to meet a woman's needs. To learn more, visit

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