There are over 42,000 deaths due to breast cancer in the U.S. each year and nearly 700,000 globally. But it is not disease in the breast that kills most who succumb to breast cancer. Rather, it is disease that has spread beyond the breast to other vital organs: typically, the bone, brain, liver, and lung. This is called metastasis.
While breast cancer metastasis is the primary cause of deaths due to breast cancer, only one U.S. conference is solely dedicated to metastatic breast cancer (MBC): The Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Conference (MBCRC), which held its 10th annual meeting on August 30-September 1 in Park City, Utah. It was hosted by BCRF investigator Dr. Alana Welm with support from Theresa’s Research Foundation, Baylor College of Medicine, University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, and BCRF.
The MBCRC is not only unique for its singular focus on MBC. From its inception, it was intended to bring patients, researchers, clinicians, funders, and pharmaceutical companies together to learn from each other with one common goal: to advance research to end MBC. The meeting was the brainchild of former BCRF investigator Dr. Matthew Ellis, in partnership with Theresa’s Research Foundation, and has grown from a small regional meeting to the only international meeting of its kind.
Patients don’t come to just listen to the scientific and clinical experts; they are invited as experts on the lived experience of MBC. Their voices, perspectives, priorities, and experiences are part of every session and in conversations throughout. This year, the conference launched a new program lead by Dr. Hillary Stires of Friends of Cancer Research that paired patient advocates with researchers to learn from one another.
MBCRC was jam packed with talks from laboratory and clinical scientists (including several BCRF investigators) from the U.S. and Europe on the biology of MBC. Covered topics included what we’ve learned from studies in tumor genomics, ethnicity and ancestry, the tumor microenvironment as well as how circulating tumor biomarkers are informing treatment response in clinical trials. Studying MBC remains a challenge, but new opportunities to advance our understanding of the disease and identify new drug targets and biomarkers were discussed. This included updates on emerging laboratory model systems as well as rapid autopsy programs that provide a valuable resource to learn from MBC in multiple organs.
Despite the urgency faced by those living with MBC—and the health care costs associated with managing advanced breast cancer—research in MBC still represents a small fraction of the NIH-awarded research grants in breast cancer. More research and clinical trials are urgently needed to understand how to prevent it and to address the concerns and priorities of those living with it.
“The conference organizers are forever grateful for the continued support from BCRF and look forward to continuing our work together on behalf of MBC patients,” said Josh Newby of Theresa’s Research Foundation and Baylor College of Medicine.
MBC research represents more than a third of the BCRF research grant budget of over $60 million, and it will continue to be a funding priority as long as women and men are dying from the disease. Support for the MBCRC meeting and others like it are another way BCRF is working to accelerate research and discovery in metastatic breast cancer.
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