Compass Marie and Angela Long arrived in San Antonio ready to attend the leading breast cancer conference in our country and internationally. Breast cancer leaders and researchers come here to hear the latest research presented. We Florida girls adjusted to the shock of 40 degree temperatures, quickly changed out of sandals, piled on the layers and headed to the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center.
Our first morning was spent at the Project LEAD Advanced Topics Session. Project Lead, the educational arm of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, provides training for activists. The exceptional training equips their graduates with an educated consumer perspective on the issues and controversies in breast cancer. The audience today is filled with health care advocates, most of whom are also survivors. Our speakers today are all esteemed in their fields and I kind of feel like a groupie getting to hear the rock stars of the breast cancer world. I have read things from today’s speakers or reviewed their studies for years and today I am standing in the same room. Pretty cool.
The first topic discussed was the role of breast health screening in this country and the potential for over-diagnosis. This subject has been contentiously debated, especially in the last few years, and is still a hot topic. The benefits and harms of screening mammography were discussed and the speaker, Dr Gilbert Welch, MD, a known cancer screening critic, carefully presented his case that perhaps we should rethink our screening guidelines. What a great discussion and the advocates on both sides did a great job. I personally could relate to the arguments for screening as even though mammograms are recommended annually after age 40, many women do not adhere to the recommendations. If we didn’t have annual screening recommendations, I am afraid of all the cancers we would miss. I also think of all the opportunities missed to educate women of their risk, what warning signs to look for, and what to do if you find an abnormality. I am not a fan of causing undue anxiety for a patient, however, I remain an advocate of screening.
The next speaker was such a treat . Dr Dennis Slamon, the researcher instrumental in the identification of the HER2/nEu oncogene and the drug Herceptin, which was one of the first in the new wave of “targeted” therapies. Dr. Slamon gave a fascinating talk reviewing the history of the use of chemotherapy for breast cancer patients, went through the studies leading up to the development of Herceptin, and finally explained the new promising therapies currently being researched that will be unveiled at this conference.
All of the above happened in one morning! Our day is packed with fascinating discussions regarding genomics, inflammatory breast cancer, and metastatic disease. Thankfully, slides are available for notes as my fingers cannot fly that fast! Lastly, I want to share that this conference is clearly an environment of hope and possibilities. Being in this environment with all these innovators, I have hope that we are closer to finding the tools for better screening and finding ways to treat breast cancer that will provide more benefit than harm. How fortunate I feel to be part of this experience. More updates to come!