Advancements continue in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment | Local News

 Advancements continue in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment |  Local News

CUMBERLAND — Advancements continue to be made in the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.

Dr. Blanche Mavromatis is director of the breast program at the UPMC Western Maryland Center for Breast Care, Schwab Family Cancer Center.

“We’ve come a very long way,” she said and talked about genomic testing for breast cancer. “We now know better who needs and benefits from chemotherapy.”

Roughly 70% of women will not need chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer, Mavromatis said.

Additionally, studies are planned for breast cancer treatment.

“We’re opening a trial through (the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh) looking at a new type of endocrine treatment … as part of a clinical trial,” Mavromatis said.

However, more studies are needed to improve treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, which grows quickly and is more likely to have spread at the time it’s found.

“The work continues and Hillman is at the forefront of … newer trials,” Mavromatis said.

Genetic testingAccording to the National Cancer Institute, certain changes to BRCA1 and BRCA2, sometimes called tumor suppressor genes, can cause cancer to develop.

“People who inherit harmful variants in one of these genes have increased risks of several cancers — most notably breast and ovarian cancer, but also several additional types of cancer,” the organization’s website states. “People who have inherited a harmful variant in BRCA1 and BRCA2 also tend to develop cancer at younger ages than people who do not have such a variant.”

Roughly 1% of breast cancer cases are found in men.

Males are often diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage “because there’s no real screening for men,” Mavromatis said.

Men who carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are more likely to get breast cancer.

“Those men need to be … followed a little bit more closely because they’re at a higher risk compared to the general population,” she said.

Genetic testing, which is available through many primary care providers, can help determine which people and their relatives will benefit from early cancer screening.

“We are launching a new program now with our radiology department where all women who will be coming in for their routine screening mammogram … will be offered, if they qualify, genetic testing,” Mavromatis said.

National trialsMickie Seletyn is a clinical research coordinator and nurse at the Schwab center.

She started working at the former Memorial Hospital in 1995, followed by the Schwab center in 2002.

She discussed a national clinical trial that includes six patients at the Schwab center.

“It’s a trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and we’re part of a cooperative group called ECOG-ACRIN,” Seletyn said and talked of a process called FDG-PET/CT to assess bone-dominant metastatic breast cancer responses to treatment. “This is a fairly new study.”

According to the US National Library of Medicine, diagnostic procedures such as FDG-PET/CT might work better than other standard imaging tests to measure breast cancer activity before and after treatment.

“Patients who only have bone disease are usually not eligible for clinical trials because it’s not considered something that’s measurable,” Seletyn said.

Six patients are enrolled in the study at UPMC Western Maryland, and roughly 90 people are participating across the country.

“What this study is hoping to find is … whether (therapy) is working,” she said. “And if it’s not, to change to something that’s more effective.”

While results of the study could take a few years, “for our patients it has been just helpful in giving the physicians additional information to make treatment decisions,” Seletyn said.

after-cancerRidgeley, West Virginia, resident Beth Dixon came to the Schwab center as a breast cancer patient and now works at the facility as a secretary.

Dixon, 42, was 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which required a lumpectomy.

Upon finishing 16 rounds of chemotherapy for the disease, she celebrated with a tradition at the center that includes reading a poem.

“Then you ring a bell three times,” Dixon said and talked of being surrounded by family, friends and Schwab staffers.

“I felt all the love and compassion and support that I was given throughout the whole process,” she said. “It was so emotional I couldn’t even say the words.”

In early 2020, Dixon went to the center for an appointment.

“They asked me what was new and I said ‘I’m looking for a job are you hiring?’” she said.

Despite not having worked in a medical setting, she came from an office setting in the roofing industry, Dixon applied for the job.

“I put my resume in and three months later I was hired,” she said. “It was a godsend.”

Today, Dixon has been cancer free for more than four years and loves her job.

“I wanted something that was going to help people,” she said of finding a new career. “It’s been very nice to be able to relate to the patients.”