Making Progress in the Battle Against Breast Cancer

By Elizabeth Fernandez

Breast cancer, a woman’s most feared disease, is the second most frequently treated cancer at UCSF. October -- breast cancer awareness month – is an opportune time to take stock of recent progress at UCSF, home to one of the nation’s preeminent cancer centers.

The focus at UCSF is on screening for early cancer detection, more effective and less toxic therapies, education and research that explores the causes, biology and behavior of the disease. Read more at:

In October, a revolutionary new way of studying and treating the disease will be launched at UCSF. Called the Athena Breast Health Network, the project is a collaboration with the five University of California medical campuses to track some 150,000 women statewide over the course of decades. At UCSF, women will be screened for the disease and provided with individual risk assessments.

Another UCSF project underway will try to pinpoint why African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than any other ethnicity and how to prolong their lives. By targeting an immune cell, the researchers – who have been awarded a $6.5 million Susan G. Komen for the Cure grant for the study -- have devised a novel way of treating their cancer.

An entirely new and cheaper way of treating early stage breast cancer patients with radiation is the focus of another new UCSF study. It found that a single dose of radiation during surgery is just as effective as standard, six-week radiation and could save $1.5 billion over five years.

In a study to be published in mid-October involving more than 170,000 women, renowned UCSF breast cancer researcher Karla Kerlikowske analyzes the probability of false positive mammograms. In a separate study also being published in October, she compares the effectiveness of digital versus film mammography.

Also getting underway in coming weeks is a joint project with Shanti, a San Francisco community organization, aimed at addressing the dearth of minorities and poor women into clinical research trials.

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In a YouTube-hosted video, George Sawaya, MD, who served on a federal task force that recommended certain women not be automatically scheduled for screening mammography, discusses the rationale behind the controversial recommendation. Sawaya is a UCSF professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, and Epidemiology and Biostatics.

UCSF is also pioneering breast cancer research on scalp cooling to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy; and spearheading a national trial that rapidly screens new drugs and matches them to specific biomarkers to dramatically shorts the time needed to deliver medications to patients. I-SPY 2 is conducted in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute, the FDA, and nearly two dozen major cancer research centers across the United States.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.