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Customized Breast Cancer Treatment

April 22, 2010 – Most researchers who study breast cancer now recognize there are at least four different subtypes of the disease, each identified by specific molecular signatures. Understanding the differences between these subtypes will play a critical role in reducing breast cancer deaths, says medical oncologist Matthew Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD, who leads the breast cancer research program at the Siteman Cancer Center.

“Every year, about 40,000 women die of breast cancer,” Ellis says. “What we need to do to make an impact on that mortality rate is to analyze every individual’s cancer carefully using the latest techniques in genetics and genomics and then come up with tailored treatment for individual patients.”

At this time, the use of molecular subtyping to guide treatment is not part of standard medical practice. But some targeted therapies are available to women through clinical studies at academic medical centers like Siteman. Click below to hear stories from Siteman patients with different subtypes of breast cancer.

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Helga Christl
Because she had luminal A breast cancer, Christl was able to participate in a clinical study providing an estrogen-lowering drug before surgery to decrease the size of her tumor and allow her to avoid mastectomy. She did not require chemotherapy after surgery and is doing well five years later.

Watch her video
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Laura Duntley
Before surgery, Duntley received chemotherapy for her HER2-positive breast cancer. By the time she had her operation, the cancer was completely gone from her breast. She now receives regular injections of an antibody to prevent a recurrence of cancer.

Watch her video
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Elaine Grimes
Grimes had basal-like breast cancer, which is more common in African-American women. She is participating in a clinical study that adds an additional chemotherapy drug to her treatment regimen to see if it increases the chance the cancer will not return.

Watch her video