Thousands unite for BCM co-hosted breast cancer meeting

Jan. 1, 2012

More than 7,000 breast cancer clinicians, researchers and advocates from over 100 countries met to discuss groundbreaking research in basic science, prevention and new treatments.

More than 7,000 breast cancer clinicians, researchers and advocates from over 100 countries across the world met last month at a Baylor College of Medicine co-hosted meeting to discuss groundbreaking research in basic science, prevention and new treatments.

The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium wrapped up its 34th annual meeting Dec. 10. In addition to BCM, whose breast center faculty has been a part of the event since the first one in 1978, the meeting is co-sponsored by the American Association of Cancer Research and the Cancer Therapy and Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

History of meeting

Dr. Kent Osborne, director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center, reminisced on the first meeting and its evolution. Osborne was a faculty member at UTHSCA at the time, before moving to BCM in 1999.

"The first couple of years were small local symposia aimed at local doctors. There were probably 50 attendees but the speakers were real stars," said Osborne. That included renowned breast cancer clinician Dr. Bernard Fisher and his brother Dr. Edwin Fisher, a pathologist who ran the National Adjuvant Surgical Breast Project, a clinical trials cooperative group. Internationally-known Dr. Bill McGuire, who served as director of the conference, and Dr. Marc Lippman, a prominent researcher, also spoke that first year. "It was amazing that we could get these guys to speak at such a small meeting."

When the group decided to invite doctors and researchers to submit abstracts of their research for presentation, the meeting began to grow more each year, eventually growing out of a small hotel room to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, where it is currently held.

Now, it is the largest and most prominent breast cancer meeting in the world.

The meeting has been held in San Antonio every year. Osborne has served as a co-director of the symposium since 1992, and BCM a co-sponsor since 1999.

BCM involvement

Smith Breast Center clinicians and researchers are involved in the organization, planning and preparations for the meeting throughout the year, and serve as moderators, discussants and forum leaders for the scientific, educational and career development programs.

Dr. Gary Chamness, professor in the Smith Breast Center, serves as program coordinator for the symposium.

BCM clinicians and researchers also get an opportunity to showcase their advances in breast cancer research. This year, BCM had a total of 17 abstracts accepted for presentation, including new information on clinical trials, breast cancer stem cells and the role of obesity in breast cancer.

New research

Nearly 1,400 abstracts were accepted for presentation at the meeting, with some of the most groundbreaking research focused on new treatments in hard-to-treat populations, and new knowledge about prevention and risk.

Research coming out of the meeting is also intently followed by journalists from across the world, including major national news outlets such as the CBS "Evening News," ABC "World News Tonight," the New York Times and all other top-five national newspaper outlets.

Results from clinical trials in metastatic breast cancer (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body) created a lot of excitement.

In one late-stage clinical trial, researchers showed that dual blockage of the HER2 pathway with an experimental treatment called pertuzumab and an older treatment called trastuzumab (along with chemotherapy) significantly extended progression-free survival in metastatic breast cancer patients. Survival was extended by an average of 6.1 months versus using trastuzumab with chemotherapy alone. Osborne served as a discussant on the trial at the meeting.

Trial results

"This study is very important as it confirms what has been seen in smaller studies that using combined therapy with drugs (trastuzumab and pertuzumab) that target HER2 in different ways is superior to trastuzumab alone," Osborne said. "This is likely to change practice for the type of patient enrolled in the study."

In updated results from the study of two drugs - everolimus and an aromatase inhibitor exemestane - for postmenopausal patients with hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer, researchers identified a significant benefit (6.9 months versus 2.8 months) in progression-free survival when compared with everolimus alone.

Everolimus is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for pancreatic cancer and renal cell carcinoma, but is experimental in breast cancer. "This could also be practice changing," Osborne said.

Other important studies included the use of bone drugs as a benefit in breast cancer, a new gene test to identify risk for recurrence of patients with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and new information on the relationship between diabetes, obesity and breast cancer.

"There is so much important research coming out of this meeting," said Osborne. "If you are a breast cancer patient and have any questions about some of these new findings you are hearing about in news reports, I encourage you to speak with your oncologist about their significance."

The 2012 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium will be held Dec. 4 – 8. at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.