Updates from the Breast Cancer Symposium

By John Zoidis, MD
Published: Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010
The First Annual Breast Cancer Symposium held September 7-8 in San Francisco

In 2007, more than 240,000 persons will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer and, nearly 41,000 will die from the disease. Although survival rates have shown significant improvement over the past several decades, breast cancer continues to be the second most common cause of cancer death in women. Several major breast cancer meetings are held each year, but there is a strong desire for a novel meeting, held in an intimate setting, that focuses specifically on translational science.

The first annual 2007 Breast Cancer Symposium, held September 7-8 in San Francisco, was designed to provide an opportunity for members of the oncology community to discuss major developments in breast cancer treatment and research in a forum that is smaller and more discrete than that of large annual meetings. The results of large clinical trials, coupled with an increasing wealth of new preclinical and translational data offer opportunities to consider new treatment approaches both in the research and practice settings. The 2007 Breast Cancer Symposium was designed to address the need to engage the oncology community in thoughtful reflection, interaction, and reaction about the developments from these and other trials.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) co-sponsored the event, along with the American Society of Breast Disease, the American Society of Breast Surgeons, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, and the Society of Surgical Oncology.

Some of the more significant news from the 2007 Breast Cancer Symposium was new data on Pfizer’s Sutent presented by Mark Kozloff, MD. It showed promising activity in combination with paclitaxel for the first-line treatment of advanced breast cancer, and the results of a Phase III trial comparing the combination of Eli Lilly’s Gemzar plus paclitaxel with paclitaxel alone in patients with unresectable, locally recurrent, or metastatic breast cancer presented by Allen S. Melemed, MD. In this trial, median overall survival was significantly better for the combination of gemcitabine plus paclitaxel than for paclitaxel alone.

Also of interest were the results of a preliminary trial that evaluated the efficacy and tolerability of Roche’s Xeloda, in combination with Genentech’s Herceptin, after anthracycline and docetaxel or vinorelbine failure and prior Herceptin exposure. Rupert Bartsch, MD, presented new data showing a clinical benefit rate of 70% in patients who received the combination. In addition, an interim analysis of the German Breast Group’s GeparQuattro trial, presented by Gunter von Minckwitz, MD, compared the safety of simultaneous or sequential use of Xeloda with docetaxel after 4 cycles of epirubicin/cyclophosphamide (EC-Doc), as well as simultaneous Herceptin, in patients with previously untreated Stage I-III breast cancer. Surprisingly, hematologic toxicities were more frequent with docetaxel alone. Moreover, the simultaneous addition of Herceptin to Xeloda/EC/Doc was feasible without additional cardiotoxicity.

These presentations highlight the ongoing effort in the oncology community to develop new drugs and new combinations of drugs for the treatment of all stages of breast cancer. It seems likely that in the coming months and years, there could be many new drugs targeting breast cancer entering the market, a well as many new indications for existing drugs.

During the 2007 Breast Cancer Symposium, the winners of the Breast Cancer Symposium Merit Awards were announced. Eighteen physicians-in-training from across the globe were honored for their research efforts, and received funding to assist with their travel to attend the Symposium.

“We are pleased to honor these physicians at the inaugural Breast Cancer Symposium for their high-level performance in clinical research,” said Gabriel N. Hortobagyi, MD, FACP, chair of the Symposium Steering Committee, Immediate Past President of ASCO, and Chair, Department of Breast Medical Oncology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Hortobagyi added, “Fellowship training programs continue to have a positive impact on patient care, and these young leaders have set the bar for future award recipients in the advancement of breast cancer research and treatment.”


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