By Daniel Atienza, MD
At Virginia Oncology Associates, we see a large volume of breast cancer patients. Because breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women, it’s important that we stay on top of how breast cancer treatments are changing and evolving so we can ensure our patients have access to the right care. We encourage patients to participate in clinical trials.
Women are surviving breast cancer at higher rates than ever. We can attribute that to multiple factors, including screening (it’s extremely important to keep your mammogram appointments), new, better tolerated therapy options, and improved supportive measures.
Related reading: What to Expect at Your Mammogram
Right now, we are seeing better drugs that are better tolerated. Estrogen, when bound to the Estrogen Receptor (ER), enhances cancer cell growth. Medications targeted against the ER either block or destroy the receptor or prevent conversion of estrogen to its active form. New targeted therapies are now available. These work by blocking specific target genes or their protein products, which are a part of the sequence of cancer cell growth. The anti-estrogens are more effective when combined with these agents, resulting in superior outcomes.
Immunotherapies have also recently emerged as a hot topic in cancer treatment. This treatment option works in some cases, but we aren’t yet at the point where all cancer can be treated through immunotherapy since immunotherapy works best when specific tumor markers are present. Immunotherapy can be used independently or alongside other treatment options.
Best of all, these newer therapies are usually better tolerated than chemotherapy. Nonetheless, chemotherapy continues to be a treatment option, and may be combined with other treatments to pursue the best outcome. We can personalize treatment options to choose the right option for the patient.
Breast cancer can reoccur, so it’s important that patients work with their care team to keep an eye on it throughout their lifetimes. Even with all these improvements, make sure you get a mammogram. If you are due for a screening, get one. A mammogram could save your life.
Dr. Atienza attended the University of East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, College of Medicine in the Philippines. He completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, and a clinical fellowship in hematology and medical oncology at Georgetown University.
Dr. Atienza is board certified in medical oncology, hematology, internal medicine, hospice and palliative care medicine. He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists and the American College of Physicians. Dr. Atienza has held faculty positions at Georgetown University and Texas Tech University. Dr. Atienza is a devoted husband and father.