Advances in the Fight Against Cancer

Advances in the Fight Against Women’s Cancers

Every tumor is different. For instance, different breast tumors may well have important genetic and molecular differences, even when they appear similar clinically. Physicians and researchers at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center are at the forefront of identifying the important characteristics of tumors and translating these discoveries into improved treatments tailored to the individual patient. Clinical trials for many different types of cancers at various stages are available to patients.

For women from families in which breast cancer is common or strikes early, members of the Cancer Risk Program at UCSF – including genetic counselors, oncologists, surgeons, clinical geneticists and primary care physicians – are weighing risks and gathering genetic information for better decision making, even before cancer is diagnosed.

These familial breast cancers often are caused by inherited, abnormal copies of genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Less well known is the fact that these abnormal genes increase a woman’s risk for other cancers, especially ovarian cancer. Cancer Risk Program members continually strive to improve methods of risk identification and evaluation and to offer better preventive options for women at high risk.

Increasing numbers of women are being diagnosed with a condition that is not quite invasive breast cancer – something called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. The search is on to identify molecular characteristics that, when present or absent in tumors, can be used to help predict which cases of DCIS are likely to progress to invasive breast cancer – and, therefore, to warrant more aggressive treatment – and which are unlikely to ever become invasive.

Finally, for women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, UCSF physicians and researchers lead a variety of clinical trials aimed at saving more lives. These may involve the evaluation of experimental, targeted drugs, new combinations of already marketed drugs and innovative treatment protocols. Again, the treatment is targeted to the properties of the tumor – whether its growth is stimulated by estrogen, for instance.

Cancer as a women’s health issue is the focus of the following videos, which cover cancers that run in families, DCIS and the search for optimal hormone therapy for invasive breast cancer. We have produced them to orient viewers to these issues and to the questions for which patients, caregivers and researchers are striving to come up with better answers.

Genetics Counseling for Ovarian Cancer Risk

One in 10-12 women with ovarian cancer has a hereditary cause of the ovarian cancer. Carefully collected three-generation pedigrees can help to determine which women should pursue genetic testing for hereditary causes of ovarian cancer, says Dr. Mary S. Beattie in this interview.

Mary S. Beattie, MD
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine; Director, Clinical Research, UCSF Cancer Risk Program
UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center


Understanding DCIS

DCIS is the most common type of noninvasive breast cancer. It develops in the ducts of the breast and is also called in situ disease.


New Frontiers in Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

Hormone therapy is a standard treatment for both early-stage and metastatic breast cancer. New studies show that extending the duration of treatment in post-menopausal women beyond the standard five years may reduce cancer recurrence and improve survival.

Hope S. Rugo, MD
Clinical Professor of Medicine; Director, Breast Oncology Clinical Trials Program
UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center