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Four Studies Reveal Advances in Women's Cancer Research

The results of four new studies presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reveal advances in the field of women's cancer research. The studies touch on several aspects of the disease, including breast cancer detection, endometrial cancer treatment, and breast cancer recurrence. The results of the study were described as promising in reducing side effects during breast cancer treatment.

"We've made tremendous progress in detecting and treating many cancers unique to women," said Julie Gralow, MD, assistant professor of oncology at the University of Washington, and moderator of a press briefing announcing the results of four new studies on breast cancer. "The studies discussed today bring us even closer to the goal of getting the best possible results with the fewest side effects."

According to ASCO, the studies dealt with the following issues:

  • Employing larger doses of radiation after breast cancer surgery
  • Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for detecting early breast cancer
  • Using radiation therapy to treat endometrial cancer-cancer of the uterine lining
  • Using the drug Herceptin(trastuzumab) in early-stage breast cancer.

The results of the study found that fewer, larger doses of radiation after surgery appear to be as effective as tradition radiation therapy in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Moreover, the larger doses do not appear to increase side effects associated with radiation therapy. Common side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Neutropenia (reduction in white blood cells)
  • Breast swelling or tenderness
  • Feeling of heaviness in the breast
  • Sunburn-like appearance of the breast skin
  • Loss of appetite

In addition, another study found that breast MRI may be more accurate than mammography at detecting certain aggressive forms of an early-stage breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). These types of DCIS are most likely to progress to the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

A third study announced at the ASCO meeting found that external beam radiation therapy-the most common type of radiation treatment-does not extend survival or reduce the risk of recurrence when used after surgery in women with early-stage endometrial cancer. In addition, the study found that the treatment doubles the incidence of side effects.

Finally, a fourth study found that the risk of heart failure Herceptin to chemotherapy in early-stage breast cancer patients did not increase when patients were evaluated three to five years later. Herceptin is used to treat some breast cancer patients with an overabundance of the HER2 gene. In a small number of women, past research has shown that Herceptin alone or in combination with chemotherapy can lead to serious heart problems including ventricular dysfunction and congestive heart failure. This life-threatening side effect is thought to be more common among patients who receive Herceptin in combination with the AC chemotherapy regimen (chemotherapy consisting of an anthracycline, such as Adriamycin or Ellence, and cyclophosphamide). The current study is promising in that it may eventually widen treatment options for women with this type of breast cancer.

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