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BCRF Honors Pioneering Breast Cancer Researcher Dr. Bernard Fisher with Endowed Symposium

By BCRF | June 17, 2020

The symposium, which focuses on clinical research, was inaugurated at this year’s annual ASCO meeting

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation endowed a new clinical science symposium at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting to honor the late Dr. Bernard Fisher, a pioneering breast cancer surgeon and researcher.

Dr. Fisher, who passed away in October at the age of 101, revolutionized breast cancer care by effectively ending the then-standard practice of radical mastectomy, an invasive and disfiguring procedure that removes the breast, underlying chest muscle, and axillary lymph nodes. He proposed the idea that breast cancer is a systemic disease in which tumor cells metastasize to distant parts of the body and theorized that radical mastectomies did not improve patient outcomes more than less-invasive surgeries. Dr. Fisher was able to prove that less-invasive simple mastectomies and lumpectomies, when combined with radiation, were just as effective.

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This paradigm-shifting treatment, informed by patterns of metastatic spread, only became widely accepted because of unbiased data from carefully designed, randomized controlled clinical trials. As a result of Dr. Fisher’s work, randomized prospective trials are now the gold standard of clinical research.

From 1967 to 1994, Dr. Fisher chaired the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), a consortium of researchers that, during his tenure, ran clinical trials involving 5,000 medical professionals, 500 institutions, and about 50,000 patients. In addition to determining the efficacy of less invasive breast cancer surgery, over the course of his career Dr. Fisher demonstrated that chemotherapy and hormone therapy can improve outcomes after surgery and that it’s possible to prevent breast cancer in women at higher risk.

BCRF Researcher Dr. Norman Wolmark, current chair of the NSABP and Dr. Fisher’s longtime colleague and mentee, opened the inaugural Dr. Bernard Fisher Memorial Annual Clinical Science Symposium at this year’s virtual ASCO annual meeting. In his opening remarks, Dr. Wolmark spoke about Dr. Fisher’s passion for unbiased research and his significant and enduring impact on breast cancer biology and oncology. The presentations centered on how biomarkers—molecular predictors and indicators of disease—continue to help investigators develop targeted breast cancer therapies and featured work from several BCRF researchers. Topics included protein biomarkers of targeted therapy response in HER2-positive and hormone receptor-positive breast cancers, as well as analysis of circulating tumor DNA for genomic profiling of a tumor, monitoring tumor response, and identifying mechanisms by which a tumor becomes resistant to therapy.

“Bernie moved clinical research forward by bringing hypothesis-driven, evidence-based science to clinical trials,” BCRF Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Dorraya El-Ashry said. “BCRF is proud to honor his legacy and enormous contribution to breast cancer research by supporting this symposium at this year’s annual meeting and going forward.”

Read the rest of BCRF’s 2020 ASCO annual meeting coverage here.