Making real progress against breast cancer

Some of the best cancer news in 2005 has been the success of targeted approaches to treating breast cancer.

Talk to any breast cancer specialist who attended the May 2005 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting — the largest annual gathering of cancer researchers and clinicians in the world — and you're likely to detect excitement in their voices. This was a year when they heard results that could markedly change the way they take care of their patients. The buzz was about targeted therapy, that is, treatment aimed directly at gene products (proteins) and other factors responsible for cancerous cell growth.

Fundamental to this approach is an understanding that not all breast cancers are alike. Although researchers have long known that breast cancer doesn't behave the same way in everyone — after all, some women do well with traditional treatments and others don't — they've only recently begun to penetrate the disease at a molecular level and appreciate that it's actually many diseases. This new knowledge is beginning to make it possible to match the right therapy with the right patient.

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