From clinical trials to big-name conferences, there have been many recent and promising breakthroughs in oncology research. We know firsthand that when you're impacted by breast or gynecological cancer, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest news and why it matters.

The Peak Editors are here to sift through the news for you. In celebration of World Cancer Day, here’s what we’re keeping an eye on in breast cancer, gynecological cancer, and hereditary cancer risk news.

Breast Cancer News

Gene Involved in Sense of Smell Could Play a Role in The Spread of Breast Cancer

Key Takeaways

  • An olfactory receptor gene that aids in the sense of smell may also trigger breast cancer cells to metastasize through signaling a pathway to the brain, bones, and lung.
  • Future research could lead to an inhibitor of the olfactory receptor gene (OR5B21) to prevent metastasis and prolong the lives of breast cancer patients.

Research Details An olfactory receptor gene (OR5B21) typically associated with the sense of smell may also play a role in the metastasis of breast cancer, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital discovered. According to study authors, a common perception is that the only role of the olfactory receptors (in the nasal cavity) is to recognize odor and smell. New research suggests that olfactory receptor 5B21 may play a role in cancer progression by driving breast cancer cells to the brain and other parts of the body.

Why It’s Important Future research could lead to using OR5B21 as a target for adjuvant therapy to help prevent metastasis and prolong survival.

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Early Exercise After Breast Cancer Surgery Improves Shoulder and Arm Mobility

Key Takeaways

  • Early physical therapy-led exercise was found to be effective in reducing upper body disability in patients at high-risk of complications.
  • Study participants reported less pain after surgery, fewer arm and shoulder problems, and better overall quality of life.

Research Details Upper body mobility improved in patients who started a therapist-led exercise regimen shortly after breast cancer surgery in comparison to those who received the standard of care, according to a new U.K. study.

Past guidelines for non-reconstructive breast surgery recommend gradual reintroduction of limb mobility. Physical therapy is typically only recommended if problems develop. However, there has been uncertainty surrounding optimal timing of postoperative exercise and previous studies excluded high-risk populations.

The UK Prevention of Shoulder Problems Trial (PROSPER) was implemented at 17 National Health Service cancer centers to investigate the effects of an exercise program in breast cancer patients when it comes to upper limb function, complications (pain, wound related complications, lymphedema), health related quality of life, and cost effectiveness.

The analysis included 392 women undergoing breast cancer surgery and found that a therapy-led exercise program is clinically effective and cost effective and reduced upper limb disability one year after breast cancer treatment in high-risk patients. Research was published on Nov 11, 2021 by the journal BMJ.

Why It’s Important Breast cancer treatment and surgery can cause complications in range of motion, chronic pain, and lymphedema, limiting quality of life and delaying recovery. The U.K. study suggests that doing specially tailored physical therapy-led exercises after breast cancer surgery can ease side effects, especially for those at a higher risk of complications.

RELATED: Do’s and Dont’s for Navigating Mastectomy Pain

Risk of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Nearly Three Times Higher for Black Women Than for White Women

Key Takeaways

  • An analysis of nearly 200,000 patients highlights breast cancer risk factors for women of different races, ages, and disease subtypes.
  • The study’s cohort included 29,822 (15 percent) Black women — a group historically understudied in cancer research.
  • Researchers found that Black women had nearly a three times increased risk of triple negative breast cancers.

Research Details Researchers analyzed nearly 200,000 patients who received mammograms between 2006 to 2015 to call attention to understanding the variety of breast cancer risk factors for women of different races, ages, and disease subtypes. The study was published in the September 2021 issue of the journal Cancer Medicine and was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study’s cohort included 29,822 (15 percent) Black women, a group historically understudied in cancer research. Researchers found that Black women had nearly a three times increased risk of triple negative breast cancers. Triple-negative breast cancers are usually more aggressive and harder to treat than cancers that are hormone-receptor-positive or HER2-positive. Researchers also found that triple negative breast cancers were less likely to be detected in screenings.

Why It’s Important More inclusive studies can help do a better job at predicting breast cancer risk for women of color.

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Gynecological Cancer News

Early Trial Drug Combination Shows Promise in Treatment-Resistant Ovarian Cancer

Key Takeaways

  • A new drug combination shrinks tumors significantly in half of patients with treatment-resistant ovarian cancer.
  • The combination of these drugs could offer a new treatment option for women with an uncommon type of ovarian cancer that rarely responds to chemotherapy or hormone therapy.

Research Details A phase I trial of a drug combination was found to shrink tumors in nearly half (46 percent) of patients with low-grade serous ovarian cancer. The pair of drugs, VS-6766 and defactinib, work together to block the signals cancer cells need to grow. The trial was led by a team at The Institute of Cancer Research, London and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

The results of the study were presented at the 2021 European Society for Medical Oncology Congress (ESMO).

Why It’s Important Low-grade serous ovarian cancer is a rare cancer that tends to develop at an earlier age than other types of ovarian cancer. It is generally resistant to chemotherapy and hormone therapy. This early clinical trial shows promise as a future possible treatment option and a phase II trial is already in progress.

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Researchers Pilot 'Itty Bitty' Device for Earlier Ovarian Cancer Detection

Key Takeaways

  • Biomedical engineering professors at the University of Arizona develop a falloposcope to detect ovarian cancer in the fallopian tubes in its early stages.
  • The device has been used to capture images of study participants’ fallopian tubes for the first time.

Research Details Biomedical engineering professors at the University of Arizona have developed a device small enough to image the fallopian tubes to search for signs of early-stage ovarian cancer. The device, falloposcope is being used to image the fallopian tubes of volunteers who are already having their fallopian tubes removed for reasons other than cancer. This will allow researchers to test the effectiveness of the device as well as establish a baseline range of what “normal” fallopian tubes should look like.

Why It’s Important Due to a lack of effective screening and diagnostic tools, more than three-fourths of ovarian cancers are not found until advanced stages. With early-stage detection and imaging, more treatment and screening options are available.

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HPV Vaccine Cuts Cervical Cancer Rates in the U.K. by 87%

Key Takeaways

  • Cervical cancer risk in young women in the U.K. has been cut by 87 percent since the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2008.

Research Details The human papillomavirus vaccine was introduced in England, UK, in September 2008 and as part of the UK HPV vaccination program, offered to girls aged 12 to 13 with a catch-up program for women aged 12 to 18.

British researchers found that compared with unvaccinated women, those who had received the vaccine at the youngest ages (12 to 13) had an 87 percent lower incidence of cervical cancer. Incidence was decreased by 62 percent among those vaccinated between the ages of 14 to 16, and 34 percent among 16-to 18-year-old vaccine recipients. Study findings were published on November 3 in The Lancet.

Why It’s Important Study findings show clear evidence that the HPV vaccine significantly reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer, especially when offered at ages 12 to 13.

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RELATED: The Real Tea on HPV

Hereditary Cancer Risk News

Women With Breast Cancer Gene Mutation Have Same or Better Survival as Women Without Mutation

Key Takeaways

  • A study of about 26,000 patients with breast or ovarian cancer showed that those with inherited cancer-associated gene variants had equivalent or better outcomes than those without.

Research Details New research shows that newly diagnosed breast or ovarian cancer patients who carry common cancer-associated gene variants have similar or better short-term survival rates than those with no gene variants.

Researchers analyzed data from the George and California Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database — a database registry of cancer cases from sources throughout the U.S. Study authors compared survival rates between women in the study and women in the general population diagnosed with the same type of cancer who did not have a gene variant.

The research was conducted by Stanford School of Medicine and published in August 2021 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Why It’s Important Breast cancer and ovarian cancer patients increasingly undergo genetic testing for inherited high-risk cancer gene variants. It was previously believed that patients who carry a gene variant like BRCA1 or BRCA2 may face a worse outcome but this study shows that people who test positive for high risk gene variants are less likely to die of their cancers.

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Study Finds Better Quality of Life in BRCA Carriers Who Preventively Remove Fallopian Tubes First, Ovaries Later

Key Takeaways

  • BRCA carriers reported higher menopause-related quality of life after salpingectomy than after salpingo-oophorectomy, regardless of hormone replacement therapy.

Research Details Gynecologic oncology researchers are examining the surgical standard of care for women at high risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to a new study.

Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene variant had better menopause-related quality of life after having surgery to remove the fallopian tubes between ages 40 and 50, then surgery to remove the ovaries later in life, compared to women who had both removed when they were in their 40s.

This clinical trial was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and published on June 3, 2021 by the journal JAMA Oncology.

Why It’s Important Past research has shown that most high-grade ovarian cancer starts in the fallopian tubes, rather than the ovaries. Although, removing both the fallopian tubes and ovaries at the same time, significantly reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, this study highlights that delaying oophorectomy can lead to a menopause-related higher quality of life.

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