Major news releases from ASCO center around the more common cancers; skin cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer. Here is a summary of the most significant advances presented at this week’s ASCO meetings about breast cancer:

• New Agent, Eribulin, Derived from a Marine Sponge, Increases Survival Among Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer: A Phase III randomized trial finds that a new chemotherapy agent, eribulin mesylate, extends median overall survival by 2.5 months among women with locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer who had already been heavily treated with conventional therapies.

• Breast Cancers that Spread to the Liver May Change Biology, Impacting Treatment Effectiveness: A retrospective study of women with metastatic breast cancer showed that the biological characteristics of their primary tumors – including estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 status – often changes when the cancer spread to the liver, requiring a change in therapy for many women.

• Removing Axillary Lymph Nodes Based on Metastases in the Sentinel Node Does Not Improve Survival in Early Breast Cancer: Removing additional axillary (underarm) lymph nodes to look for breast cancer in women with limited disease spread in the sentinel node does not improve survival, according to results from a Phase III study. These findings are important because many physicians routinely remove multiple axillary nodes in women with micrometastases in the sentinel lymph node, which increases the risk of side effects, such as pain and swelling.

• Using Immunohistochemistry Testing to Identify Breast Cancer Micrometastases in the Sentinel Node and Bone Marrow Does Not Help Predict Survival: A large observational trial of women with early-stage breast cancer who had breast-sparing surgery (lumpectomy) showed that using immunohistochemistry (IHC) to detect micrometastases in sentinel lymph nodes and the bone marrow does not predict overall survival and should not be used to guide treatment decisions. Micrometastases are smaller, hidden pockets of metastatic disease that may be missed by standard pathology.

No blockbusters here. Researchers continue to chip-away, day after day. Sometimes what doctors shouldn’t do can be just as important as what they actually do. The third study, Removing Axillary Lymph Nodes Based on Metastases in the Sentinel Node Does Not Improve Survival in Early Breast Cancer,is an example of this. Surgeons routinely remove lymph nodes nearest to the breast where they find cancer. This study may help convince doctors to stop performing this usual and customary procedure without thinking–and if it isn’t necessary.

Feel good and keep smiling! Pat

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