5 takeaways from SBP Insights: Breast Cancer

Written by 
Monica May
Insights:Breast Cancer event

Your sister, your friend, your neighbor. We all know someone affected by breast cancer. It remains the second most common cancer for American women. While less common, men can also get breast cancer. Treatment advances are being made, but we still have more work to do. Modern medicines don’t work for every patient. 

On October 25 the San Diego community visited Sanford Burnham Prebys Biomedical Research Institute (SBP) to hear three unique perspectives on breast cancer—a doctor, scientist and survivor—as part of the Institute’s ongoing SBP Insights series. These interactive events are designed to help the public better understand how research leads to better medicines—told from the perspectives of individuals who are at the front lines of this journey. 

Jorge Moscat, Ph.D., director and professor of SBP’s Cancer Metabolism and Signaling Networks Program provided a special introduction and Shaina Gross, president and CEO of Susan G. Komen San Diego moderated the discussion. The panelists were Brooke Emerling, Ph.D., assistant professor at SBP; Rebecca Shatsky, M.D., breast cancer oncologist at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health; and Helen Eckman, Ed.D., a breast cancer survivor, associate professor at Brandman University and SBP Community Advisory Board Member. 

“It was wonderful to learn about the collaboration between my oncologist and the research team at SBP. I knew that Dr. Shatsky was doing a research project on breast cancer, but not that she was also working with SBP,” says Cindy Goodman, an event attendee and supporter of SBP’s Fishman Fund, which provides grant funding to exceptional postdoctoral scholars. “For anyone who has to undergo treatment for breast cancer, the discussion clearly demonstrated that we are in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.”

After a brief presentation from each speaker, audience members were able to pose questions to the panel. Below are some of the key insights generated from the informational and at-times emotional discussion. 

  1. Trust your instincts. A doctor thought strange spots on Eckman’s mammogram were camera error and asked her to return in six months for a re-test. Her gut told her otherwise and she insisted on another mammogram right away—which found metastatic breast cancer. Shatsky echoed this advice, recommending that in addition to regular self-breast exams, pay attention to what is normal for your own body. Then you can spot when something is “off.”
  2. Most women don’t have a family history of breast cancer. Only 10 to 15 percent of breast cancer cases are due to inherited genes that increase breast cancer risk, such as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. Breast cancer can occur in anyone.
  3. Every tumor is unique. Like us, our cancer is unique—both in terms of genetics and how it interacts with its environment. The panel agreed personalized medicines are the future of breast cancer treatment.
  4. Tomorrow’s breakthroughs stem from today’s research. Because of research, we now know that breast cancer isn’t one disease—but actually 25 different subtypes. And scientists can now work to find effective treatments for each. For example, Emerling is working on a potential targeted treatment for the triple negative subtype—which lacks hormone receptors and thus is difficult to treat.
  5. Cures come from collaboration. Communication between scientists and doctors will lead to breast cancer treatments. Indeed, Shatsky and Emerling are part of breast-cancer focused disease team at SBP. They noted the insights gained from these discussions are invaluable. 

Interested in joining us again? The next SBP Insights focuses on heart disease and will be held on February 7, 2019. To register, visit: sbpdiscovery.org/insights