breast cancer Archives - NFCR

breast cancer

Triple Negative Breast Cancer – What Every Patient Should Know

breast cancer ribbonA diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) can strike fear in the hearts of a patient and his or her family since such breast cancers tend to be both more aggressive and more difficult to treat than hormone-positive breast cancers.   

Nearly 15-20% of breast cancers are so-called “triple negative,” meaning such cancers have tested negative in pathology reports for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and Her2/Neu.   The growth of these cancers are not fueled by estrogen and progesterone, as are most cancers, and therefore, do not respond to hormonal therapies such as Tamoxifen, Arimidex, Aromasin, Femara or Aromasin.  Further, such cancers do not respond to therapies that target HER2 receptors, such as Herceptin or Tykerb, rendering them more difficult to treat.   As a result, treatment for TNBC typically involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Most studies have shown that TNBC is both more likely to metastasize and recur (in the early years) than hormone-positive breast cancers.   A 2007 study of 1,600 Canadian women found that TNBC patients were at much higher risk of reoccurrence outside of the breast area within the first 3-5 years post-diagnosis. Another 2007 study of more than 50,000 with all forms of breast cancer found 77 percent of women with TNBC survived 5 years, whereas 93 percent of women with other forms of cancer survived the same duration  Over the longer term, the TNBC relapse rate drops below that of hormone-positive breast cancers.   These conclusions have been supported by several studies, but also opposed by a smaller, 300-patent study.

TNBCs also tend to be higher “grade” than other types of breast cancer.  The grade measures how closely a cancer cell resembles a normal, healthy breast cell in terms of size, shape, and growth pattern/activity.   Most TNBCs are labeled Grade 3, the highest on the scale.

Younger African American and Hispanic women are at higher risk of TNBC than their Caucasian peers.  Furthermore, a 2009 study found that women who used oral contraceptives for more than one year were significantly more likely to develop TNBC than those that did not.

TNBC has become a core focus of the cancer research community.   Current research is focused on Angiogenesis and EGFR (HER-1) inhibitors, PARP inhibitors (which showed initial promise, but now, mixed results), and Glembatumumab vedotin (CDX-011).   Research in new target areas and new treatment options are being funded by the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR).

NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Susan Horwitz, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has been instrumental in the development of a successful class of anti-cancer drugs called Microtubule-Stabilizing Agents (MSAs) – a class that includes Taxol®.   MSAs work by binding microtubules, filamentous intracellular structures involved in cell and nucleic division and intracellular transport, promoting their polymerization, blocking mitosis (cell division/replication), and causing cell death.  According to Dr. Sujuan Ba, “NFCR is now funding a collaborative effort between Dr. Horwitz and Dr. Amos B. Smith, III, to develop another MSA agent designed to overcome the drug resistance triple-negative breast cancers exhibit to Taxol while limiting toxicity.”

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7 Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk

The statistics are staggering. Today, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 8 for U.S. women and 1 in 1,000 for U.S. men. Although there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, there are things we can do to significantly reduce our breast cancer risk. And there are steps we can take to find it early- when it’s most treatable- if it does occur. Follow these 7 steps to minimize your breast cancer risk.

1. Know your family history- even your father’s.

You may be at a higher risk of breast cancer if you have family members (parent, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews) who have developed breast, ovarian or prostate cancer—especially at an early age.

Men and women with a strong family history of cancer may want to consider genetic counseling. Talk to your doctor or genetic counselor.


2. Watch your weight and give your body the nutrients it needs.

Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life and nourishing your body with fruits and vegetables can help lower risk of breast cancer. Studies have shown that women’s breast cancer risk is increased with obesity (being extremely overweight) especially after menopause. Obesity is probably a risk factor for male breast cancer as well.

3. Get moving!

Studies have conclusively shown that exercise can help cut down your breast cancer risk and even help breast cancer survivors live longer. So get out there and dance, run, swim, bike or walk. Exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes every day.

 Other examples of moderate intensity exercise include:

  • Cleaning such as washing windows, vacuuming and mopping
  • Tennis doubles
  • Mowing lawn (power mower)


4. Avoid tobacco.

If you’re a smoker, quit! Smoking not only causes many different cancers including breast cancer, it can also damage nearly every organ in your body, including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, eyes, skin and bones.

Smoking causes a number of diseases and is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women.

Avoid second hand smoke whenever possible—it can be just as damaging.  Research also has shown that there may be link between very heavy second-hand smoke exposure and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.

5. Limit your alcohol intake.

Women should limit their alcohol intake to less than 3 drinks per week. New studies suggest that women who drink 3 to 6 drinks per week of any type of alcohol have a 15% increase in their risk of breast cancer.

Men can have high estrogen levels as a result of being heavy users of alcohol, which can limit the liver’s ability to regulate blood estrogen levels.


6. Avoid or limit Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Research has shown that menopausal women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be more likely to develop breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about the different options to manage the side effects of menopause, and the risks and benefits of each.


7. Get screened.

Monthly self-breast exams and annual mammograms for women don’t prevent cancer, but they can help find cancer at the earliest stages when it’s most treatable. Please consult your physician for a specific screening schedule tailored to your risk profile.
Cancer research breakthroughs are constantly introducing new tools in the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer. Support cancer research. Without funding, we are not able to sustain our efforts to find a cure for breast cancer- and all cancers.



Give a gift to support life-saving cancer research!


(This blog was originally published on October 21, 2016 and updated on October 18, 2017)

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Attacking Metastatic Tumors in the Brain

Targeting HER3 could cripple metastatic cancers that have spread to the brain.

(Bethesda, MD, June 5, 2017) Rakesh Jain, PhD, Director of the Edwin L. Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and supported by the National Foundation for Cancer Research, has discovered a novel mechanism behind the resistance to HER2- or PI3K-targeted therapies, and a treatment strategy that may overcome treatment resistance. This significant finding was reported in the latest issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Rakesh Jain’s discovery could be very important for cancer patients whose cancers have spread to the brain.  About 20% to 25% of all breast cancers have an excess of a protein known as Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (HER2). HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancer spreads more quickly than other types of breast cancer, and while several targeted therapies are now available to treat HER2+ breast cancer, putting this cancer into remission for years or longer in many patients, up to 50% of patients treated with these targeted therapies eventually develop brain metastases, which are inevitably fatal.

This research project directed by Dr. Jain may have unlocked a key as to why brain metastases are resistant to HER2+ targeted therapies, and have uncovered a potential treatment strategy to overcome this resistance.

Using tumor models and human cancer samples, the researchers found an overexpression of Human Epidermal Grown Factor Receptor 3 (HER3) in breast cancer-associated brain lesions, and that inhibiting HER3 could help overcome treatment resistance.  Dr. Jain’s team found that using drugs that target HER3 combined with those that target HER2 significantly slowed brain metastatic tumor growth and improved survival of the tumor models.  These results are the collaborative efforts between Rakesh Jain and Jeffrey A. Engelman, MD, PhD,  Global Head of Oncology at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (formerly with the MGH Cancer Center), an expert in targeted therapies and co-senior author of the publication.

Cancer therapies that target specific proteins often fail to reign in tumors that have metastasized to the brain, and Rakesh Jain’s collaboration with Jeffrey Engelman could well have revealed the mechanism behind therapeutic resistance of brain metastases in HER-2 positive breast cancer.  This breakthrough research “has identified new treatment strategies to overcome this problem which is often lethal to the patients,” says Dr. Jain. “We believe our discovery could have a substantial impact on the future development of therapeutic strategies and ultimately, patient survival from this deadly disease.”

Dr. Jain hopes that clinical trials and future therapeutic strategies for metastatic breast cancer will include HER3 targeted therapies in treating brain metastasis in HER2+ (or PIK3CA mutant) breast cancer.  And since HER3 has been associated with treatment resistance in several types of cancer, this discovery could potentially benefit a much broader group of patients.

“The impact of the microenvironment on tumor growth is a major focus of Rakesh Jain’s research, and NFCR is proud to have supported his research since 1998,” says Franklin C. Salisbury, Jr., Chief Executive Officer of NFCR.  Research cures cancer, and “NFCR’s support of outstanding scientists like Rakesh Jain is making possible whole new approaches to treating cancer, giving hope and promise to patients with cancer.”

About the National Foundation for Cancer Research

The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is a leading cancer research charity dedicated to funding cancer research and public education relating to cancer prevention, earlier diagnosis, better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for cancer. NFCR promotes and facilitates collaboration among scientists to accelerate the pace of discovery from bench to bedside. NFCR is committed to Research for a Cure – cures for all types of cancer. For more information, visit or call (800) 321-CURE (2873).

Media Contact:
Hali Hartmann
443 474 6294

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Garlic: It’s Good For You

Garlic has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. Today, it is used to help prevent heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and to boost the immune system. Research has shown that eating garlic regularly may also help protect against cancer.[i]

What makes garlic such a potent disease fighter?

Garlic contains a rich combination of about 20 phytochemicals with antioxidant and antibacterial properties and a wide range of vitamins and minerals including calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C.

Research suggests that eating garlic regularly may help accelerate the process of repairing damaged DNA and may reduce the risk of several cancer types, including stomach, colon, pancreatic and breast cancer.[ii]

Please note: Although the health benefits of garlic are frequently reported, excessive intake can have harmful effects.

Roasted Garlic Chicken

Adapted from the Food Network’s Melissa d’Arabian


  • 8 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 head of garlic, separated into whole cloves, paper skin removed (about 20 cloves)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp herbes de Provence
  • 1 tsp flour (try using almond flour or coconut flour)
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • ½ lemon, juiced


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Salt and pepper chicken liberally. Separate garlic into whole cloves, papery skin removed.
  3. In a large ovenproof sauté pan, cook the whole garlic cloves in olive oil and butter over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove garlic from the pan and set aside. Increase heat to medium-high and brown chicken skin-side down until the skin is golden and crispy, about 5 minutes.
  5. Turn the chicken over, sprinkle on herbes de Provence. Add the garlic back to the pan and place hot pan in oven. Bake the chicken until cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  6. Once the chicken is done, remove chicken thighs and garlic to a platter. Place the pan over medium-high heat and sprinkle the drippings with flour and stir to incorporate. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock and lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the chicken on the platter.
  7. Serve with yummy whole grain bread for sauce-mopping and garlic spreading.



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Party4Life 2016 & the Lucy Fund

Ongoing Fundraising Efforts Seek to Find a Cure for Metastatic Cancer

Over eight years ago, Lucy Stanovick began efforts to educate others about metastatic cancer and fund research to find cures. Her story in terms of an unfortunate diagnosis may be common, but her story of giving and organizing is truly unique. To this day, over $200,000 has been raised in Lucy’s name for the National Foundation for Cancer Research. This is her story…

Lucy’s Story

Lucy Stanovick found out she had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer on April 1, 2008 – she was just 42 years old. Lucy was an English professor, writer, devoted wife and mother of two and she was – understandably – blindsided by this diagnosis. She had always been health-conscious, did self-exams and received yearly mammograms, yet cancer still found its way in. In fact, her previous mammogram in July 2007 came back normal – no signs of cancer. Less than one year later, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
Lucy did not sit idly by as she fought her own health battles. For the next four years, Lucy educated the public about metastasis and became involved in initiatives aimed to stop the spread of cancer. It was Lucy’s goal to see metastatic cancer become chronic, not deadly, so that one day when someone you love walks into a doctor’s office and gets told they have metastatic cancer, the prognosis will not be terminal.  Sadly, as the summer of 2012 came to an end, so did Lucy’s life—she passed away at the age of 46.

Lucy’s Legacy

Metastasis causes more than 90% of cancer-related deaths, but receives less than 5% of the funding.

To educate others and raise money for research, Lucy gathered friends and family in 2008 for an all-day, all-night affair she called Party4Life.  Two years later, in partnership with NFCR, Lucy created the Lucy Fund for Metastatic Breast Cancer Research. These efforts have since grown to include even more events and a larger community of supporters dedicated to advancing leading-edge research for metastatic breast cancer.

Lucy selflessly fought for future generations. Her passion lives on and your generous support helps keep her spirit alive.

Party4Life 2016

This year’s Party4Life was hosted by Lucy’s son’s coed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, at his alma mater, Susquehanna University.

Under the leadership of Chapter President Vickie Smith, Party4Life incorporated the theme of Monsters University and featured food, games, speakers, and all around fun!

To support their incredible fundraising efforts and support metastatic cancer research, visit


Dr. Danny Welch directs the NFCR Center for Metastasis Research in its investigations of cancer biology related to metastasis. Dr. Welch and his team have identified genes regulating metastasis, particularly metastasis suppressors; investigated the interactions between metastases and their surrounding tissues, especially for bone metastasis; and are now working to translate their findings into clinical practice.

Through research, they identified genetic changes that predict whether patients will or will not develop metastasis. At least some of these changes occur in mitochondria – where cells convert nutrients into energy. These results could determine that a simple blood draw and analysis of mitochondrial DNA – which is present in every cell and which is small enough to be rapidly analyzed – could be used to help doctors guide their strategies to treat patients.

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Research by NFCR Scientists Reveals New Insights into Treatment Resistance of Metastatic Breast Cancer

Oscillating expression of a key cancer gene may impact treatment approaches for patients

NFCR-supported scientist Dr. Daniel Haber and his team at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center have identified a dynamic gene expression in metastatic breast cancer that may contribute to disease progression and resistance to treatment experienced by many patients. Tumors can evolve in response to treatment and they may acquire new genetic features that may make them resistant to drugs and cause disease progression.

In their quest to find genetic changes in advanced breast cancer, the scientists utilized the rare circulating tumor cells (CTCs) found in a patient’s bloodstream – which have migrated away from a tumor and into blood vessels. CTCs offer a wealth of information to researchers and oncologists about the state of a patient’s cancer.

“I am thankful to the NFCR for their sustained support of our research to increase our understanding of the genes involved in the progression of cancer and to develop prevention and treatment strategies for metastatic cancer,” said Dr. Haber.

The Haber team used their device, the CTC-iChip, to collect viable CTCs from women initially diagnosed with primary breast tumors that are ER+/HER2-, meaning that their tumor cells expressed estrogen receptor genes (ER+) but did not express the HER2 gene (HER2–). Both ER and HER2 genes are known for their role in fueling breast cancer cells and promoting tumor growth. The patients had undergone multiple courses of treatment for recurrent metastatic cancer.

Intriguingly, molecular characterization of the isolated CTCs revealed not just ER+ / HER2– tumor cells, but also a second type: the ER+ / HER2+ cells that also express the HER2 gene.

Through a series of elegant laboratory experiments, the researchers delved deeper to characterize the CTCs and found a unique and dynamic interconversion of HER2 gene expression: ER+/HER2– cells could spontaneously become ER+/HER2+ and convert back to ER+/HER2–. In addition, researchers found that the two populations of tumor cells depended on different molecular signaling pathways for their proliferation and consequently, were sensitive to different anti-cancer drugs.

Because HER2 gene expression oscillates between on and off spontaneously in these tumors, researchers reasoned that the two separate signaling pathways may need to be simultaneously turned off to halt either cell group from repopulating one another and beginning new abnormal growth. Results of further experiments in cell cultures and more advanced tumor models proved that simultaneous treatment with chemotherapy paclitaxel and targeted therapeutic drugs that inhibit the NOTCH1 molecular signaling pathway achieved suppression of tumor cell growth expressing both ER+ / HER2– and HER2+ subpopulations.

This breakthrough discovery was published in the August 24 online edition of the journal Nature.

“Although more research is needed to uncover why HER2 has this dynamic on-and-off expression, these insights from our research are a positive development for a new treatment approach,” said Dr. Haber.

Dr. Haber also notes that clinical trials will now be needed to test whether these insights from experimental models will translate into better and more effective treatments for women with advanced breast cancer.

“The CTC research platform developed by Dr. Haber and his team continues to produce new knowledge about the intricate ways that cancer may grow and evade treatments,” said Franklin Salisbury, CEO of NFCR. “Metastatic disease causes more than 90% of the fatalities to cancer and the new insights from this research have opened the field for potential new treatment approaches so desperately needed for patients with metastatic breast cancer.”



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Mary-Claire King, @UW 2016 Szent-Györgyi Prize


MCK ResizedThe National Press Club was the setting for the award ceremony recognizing Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., University of Washington professor of medicine and genome sciences as the 2016 recipient of the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research presented annually by The National Foundation for Cancer Research.  This year’s prize recognizes Dr. King’s pioneering research that clearly demonstrated the genetic causes of breast and ovarian cancers by identifying the BRCA1 gene and its cancer-related mutations.

The dinner celebration featured a rare opportunity to hear from and ask questions of an esteemed panel.  Moderated by last year’s prize winner Dr. Fred Alt of Boston Children’s hospital, Dr. King was joined on stage by Webster K. Cavenee, Ph.D., Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, San Diego Branch, Susan Band Horwitz, Ph.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Craig B. Thompson, M.D., CEO of The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Mary-Claire King’s discoveries represent a fundamental step in the understanding of cancer and have changed the face of cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment. This has led to the genotype-based breast cancer screening practice that can identify individuals who have inherited mutations in BRCA1 and give them a chance to take preventive measures at an early stage of their lives.

About the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research

The Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research was established by the National Foundation for Cancer Research in honor of its co-founder, Albert Szent-Györgyi, M.D., Ph.D., recipient of the 1937 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

The 2016 Szent-Györgyi Prize Selection Committee was chaired by Fred Alt, Ph.D. and co-chaired by Sujuan Ba, Ph.D.  Other selection committee members included leaders in cancer research and drug development from academic institutes and biotech and pharmaceutical industries: Webster K. Cavenee, Ph.D., Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Sara A. Courtneidge, Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University;  Carlo M. Croce, M.D., The Ohio State University; Richard Gaynor, M.D., Eli Lilly; Susan B. Horwitz, Ph.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University; Raju Kucherlapati, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School; Alex Matter, M.D., Experimental Therapeutics Center & D3, A*STAR, Singapore; Philip Tsichlis, M.D., Tufts University School of Medicine; Peter K. Vogt, Ph.D., The Scripps Research Institute; Irving L. Weissman, M.D., Stanford University; Qimin Zhan, M.D., Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, China; and General Secretary Yi Michael Wang, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, NFCR.

About Mary-Claire King, Ph.D.

Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., is American Cancer Society Research Professor of Genetics and Medicine (Medical Genetics) at the University of Washington in Seattle.

In 1990, Mary-Claire King demonstrated that a single gene on chromosome 17q21 (which she named BRCA1) was responsible for breast and ovarian cancer in many families. Her discovery of BRCA1 and the approach she developed to identify this cancer gene has since proven valuable and revolutionized the study of numerous other inherited genetic diseases and conditions.

She has served on the National Commission on Breast Cancer of the President’s Cancer Panel, the advisory board of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health and many NIH study sections. Abroad, she has carried out DNA identifications for the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Her lab continues to provide genetic identification services and currently serves as the DNA identification base for the United Nations War Crimes Tribunals.

Dr. King has won numerous awards and honors throughout her career. Most recently the 2015 National Medal of Science. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

About the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR)

Dedicated to funding cancer research and public education relating to cancer prevention, earlier diagnosis, better treatments and, ultimately, cures for cancer, NFCR has provided more than $330 million in direct support of discovery-oriented cancer research focused on understanding how and why cells become cancerous, and on public education relating to cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. NFCR is about Research for a Cure—cures for all types of cancer.  For more information, please visit

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Breast Cancer Treatments in the News

New Treatments Could Shrink Breast Cancer in Just 11 Days

For patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, a new combination therapy with two drugs could shrink or even eliminate their tumors in just 11 days.

About 10% of breast cancers are HER2-positive, which is a subtype of breast cancer that is aggressive and resistant to the treatment currently available.  The new drug combination uses trastuzumab (Herceptin), a drug that targets the HER2 protein on cancer cells, and lapatinib that targets the HER2 protein inside the cancer cells. This drug combination forms a one-two punch to the cancer cells: the first drug targets the HER2 protein on the surface of cancer cells, and the second one penetrates the cells to attack from within.

The results of this new combination approach are excellent. Among the 66 women with HER2-positive breast cancer between 1 and 3 cm in size and received the combination of the two drugs, 11 percent of them saw their tumours disappear entirely in just 11 days.

More research will need to be done on the long-term benefits of the treatment before this new drug combination could be prescribed to patients. But, this exciting result really gives the breast cancer patients the hope that more personalized treatment will be available to them in the near future.

The result of this clinical study also demonstrated the power and importance of the genetic testing: with the capability of identifying the genetic abnormalities at the molecular level by doctors, targeted therapy and precision medicine will change the way of cancer treatment and bring significant benefits to cancer patients.

Michael Wang, MD, PhD, Chief Science Officer, NFCR


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