October is breast cancer awareness month. This annual campaign, organised by many major breast cancer charities and research groups aims to inform women about the risk of breast cancer and generally raise awareness. If you see somebody with a pink ribbon, you now know why, and why not do the same to show support and remind people that taking care of their bodies and getting a regular checkup can help prevent or diagnose breast cancer while its still early.
We spoke to Professor Armando Santoro , director of Humanitas Cancer Center, and host of the show Heart and money , broadcasting on Radio 24.
Prevention and early diagnosis, what has changed over the years?
With prevention everything has changed. For example, when we talk about breast cancer through prevention and early detection, if there is no involvement of lymph nodes and if the size of the tumor is contained, it is often not necessary to resort to chemotherapy. This is why it is crucial to increase breast cancer awareness through campaigns and promote prevention and early detection.
In fact, early detection and screening campaigns allow us many times to avoid chemotherapy treatments.
When it is necessary to resort to an intervention by chemotherapy, we use much less toxic drugs and molecules compared to previous decades. In addition, we have a whole series of antidotes that control and contain the side effects of these treatments, thus allowing full toleration of the chemotherapy treatment.
This way, the percentage of patients who abandon treatment because of the side effects is shrinking.
At what point are the customized therapies, so-called “custom”?
In regards to breast cancer, it should be emphasized that there are at least 30-40 different types of breast cancers. This diversity concerns the size of the tumor, the possible involvement of the lymph nodes, the sensitivity to certain hormonal treatment, and the excretion of proteins which are typical of certain forms of cancer. Today these features imply a different prognosis for each and allow you to take targeted “custom” treatments.
Depending on the type of cancer cells present in the patient, you can set a medical treatment “to measure” and calibrate for those specific type of cells.b
In the US, President Obama has launched a major campaign which is very well financed, to stimulate research into the detection within 5 years, and to target treatments specific to each individual tumor.
What is immunotherapy?
In recent years immunotherapy is the innovation that is radically changing the therapeutic approach in the field of cancer treatment.
Immunotherapy starts from a principle known for several decades: the stimulation of the immune system against cancer cells.
If all attempts in the past fifty years and at least up to 10 years ago proved futile, today is totally changing the approach to immunotherapy. In fact, we now have drugs that manage to free the cells responsible for the body’s defense.
These cells do not directly attack the cancer but raise your immune system, so that it contains the advancement of the tumor.
It is a paradigm shift with transverse results of considerable importance. If until now we used to have some anticancer drugs to fight specific cancers, now we can boast a treatment that is valid and effective for many types of cancer.