Friday, February 15, 2013

New research revealed at breast cancer forum

Depression, obesity linked to increased risk

Express Staff Writer

Express photo by Roland Lane Panelists speak at the 17th annual Laura Evans Memorial Breast Cancer Symposium in Sun Valley on Wednesday.

During a well-attended, free forum on breast cancer research Wednesday, some of the world’s top researchers on the subject linked depression and obesity to increased risk for breast cancer development, progression and metastasis.

The forum was a part of Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research’s 17th annual Laura Evans Memorial Breast Cancer Symposium, taking place this week at Sun Valley Resort. The symposium is an opportunity for researchers to get together and discuss unpublished, breaking research in the field. Though the symposium itself is closed to the public, an “open forum” provides an opportunity for members of the public to hear from the researchers and ask questions.

This year’s Open Forum, sponsored by St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation, featured 22 renowned scientists, researchers and physicians from around the globe. They include symposium scientific advisor Dr. Marc Lippman, chair of the department of medicine at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami; Dr. David Spiegel, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Stanford University School of Medicine; and Dr. Mary Disis, professor at the University of Washington’s department of medicine’s division of oncology.

During the forum, Disis gave a presentation on how the development of breast cancer triggers a response from the immune system, but she said the response doesn’t work very well. She said that even though the body recognizes there’s a need to fight the disease, the cancer causes the secretion of substances that suppress the immune system. She said some new medicines may be able to dampen the disease’s suppression of the immune system and may lead to a new approach to fighting the disease that stimulates the immune system rather than weakens it, as current chemotherapy does.

Spiegel then gave a short talk on the connection between mind and body in cancer patients. He said that, at first, cancer researchers thought breast cancer patients would depress each other if they got together and formed support groups. However, new research has shown that patients who join support groups are less depressed and also live longer than those who don’t. He said that a patient’s “thinking” can indeed have an effect on his or her fight against the disease, but it’s “not everything.”

Lippman then gave a presentation that tied Disis’ and Spiegel’s research together. He said his research focuses on how breast cancer spreads through the body. It’s this metastasis, he said, that kills patients. Lippman said cancer would not be able to spread if it did not secrete immune suppressors. He added that depression and weight-gain can increase those secretions and could “tip the scale” toward a person’s development of breast cancer.

Lippman said that now that these links among cancer, immune suppression, depression and weight gain are understood, coming up with a way to treat the disease should be “relatively easy.”

According to Expedition Inspiration spokeswoman Krista Detwiler, videos of the forum will be available on YouTube in two to three weeks. To access the videos, see

Brennan Rego:

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