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For the week of March 6 - 12, 2002


6th Annual Breast Cancer Symposium held

Expedition Inspiration hosts physicians and scientists

Express Staff Writer

Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research hosted the 6th Annual Breast Cancer Symposium in Sun Valley over the weekend. Medical doctors and scientists met in various workshops to discuss and engage about this year’s topic, "Molecular Biology of Breast Cancer ¾ Clinical Applications."

EI was founded in 1993 by breast cancer survivor and Wood River Valley resident Laura Evans to raise awareness and research funds for the cause, as well as to educate and support those affected by the disease. In 1995, along with 17 other survivors, Evans led a climb on Argentina's Mount Aconcagua, which at 22,841 feet is the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Evans died from a brain tumor in 2000.

The format of the symposium’s workshops encourages discussions of the general issues of breast cancer with emphasis on the year's subject. Participants share their unpublished work, regardless of whether they relate to a specific session heading.

In such heady company, disagreements among scientist are not unusual, but they excite rather then lead them into war, said Dr. Marc Lippman, of the University of Michigan Health System.

On the last day of the symposium the group presents a public forum, where audience members are invited to present questions. Having such well regarded researchers gather together every year is among EI’s most important accomplishments. A synopsis of the key statements that came out of the symposium will be published by Lippman.

The gist of this year’s symposium was to try to understand what those properties are that cause some genes to mutate. Simply put, what "allows us to live," and "what leads to cancer?" said Dr. Neal Rosen, of Sloane Kettering in New York.

Among the issues discussed were clinical studies of new drugs, drugs for post menapausal cancer survivors, future research, risk factors, Isoflavins found in soy products, and Chinese herbology.

The doctors discourage over use of soy, and while there are some promising studies being done with Chinese herbs, "women should be very cautious about visits to the health food store," said Lippman.

Lippman also discounted recent reports that women who work nights may increase their breast cancer risk due to bright light in the dark hours, which decreases melatonin secretion and increases estrogen levels. As they had discussed, studies must have appropriate control groups, and have taken into account family histories, other high risk factors like age and past medical history of the patient, including the age when a first child was born and if the woman breast fed or not.

Lippman didn’t feel that the above mentioned study was done thoroughly enough to be fully validated.

As always, the talk swung from research to accepted procedures—in so far as it was comprehensible for the lay person.

"Ideally, we want Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMS) that are anti-estrogen in the breasts and uterus, good to lipids and bones, and help decrease hot flashes," said Event and EI Medical Board Chair, Dr. Julie Gralow, to much appreciative laughter from the audience made up almost entirely of women.

There is much confusion over this very important issue, since estrogen receptors of different target tissues vary in chemical structure, thus interacting differently with the estrogen receptors of disparate tissues. Among the more commonly known SERMS are Tamoxifen, and Raloxifen, which are extremely effective in blocking the action of estrogens. But they must be discontinued after about five years, as it appears that they not only stop working but possibly begin to mimic the cancer growth.

Promisingly, new clinical studies are being done with Aromatase inhibitors, which also work on estrogen-sensitive cancers, but in a different way. They do not block the action of estrogen but rather work by preventing estrogen production in the first place.

Always complicating matters for women who’ve had cancer is that they tend to go into early menopause. Therefore, bone density loss, and other symptoms associated with menopause become at issue in any subsequent treatment.

Whatever course of action a patient takes, the panel all concurred that keeping one’s doctor informed of everything you’re doing—whether it is acupuncture, herbs or soy—is of utmost importance.

"It is absolutely critical that you—for yourself — really need to talk to your physician," said Lippman.

Working together for early detection and prevention is what it’s all about.

"If dancing naked around a bed singing Jewish songs worked, I’d do it," Rosen added. For more information on Expedition Inspiration, call 208-726-6456 or go to expeditioninspiration.org.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.