One of the difficult things about having stage 4 breast cancer is that most of the money being spent on breast cancer research - especially the really ground-breaking research - is in prevention and detection, rather than on what to do with cancer that has spread. This is very discouraging for patients whose cancer has recurred or spread, because once it metastasizes, breast cancer is both extremely deadly and extremely painful. To be told that you have metastatic breast cancer is the experience of not only hearing your own death sentence, but also finding out that you are going to be tortured first.
One of the reasons metastatic breast cancer is so painful, is that sooner or later the majority of us get tumors that ravage our bones. To make it worse, the cancer in our bones is generally more resistant to chemo and hormonal treatments than the cancer in the soft tissue. Once in your bones - especially once it's in your spine - the cancer can really set up camp and then send out invaders to other parts of your body, like your brain, lungs, and liver. So the bones torture you and debilitate you, and then use other parts of your body to kill you.
Which is why it's exciting that they have now found two important ways in which breast cancer tumors - and in one case, bone metastases - change their microenvironment in order to outsmart our immune systems and cancer treatments. Knowing this could allow researchers to develop new treatments that could help to extend lives and extend functionality for those of us suffering from metastatic breast cancer.
They won't develop these treatments in time for me, but it gives me hope for my nieces and my friends' children.
And that, dear readers, is a Very Good Thing.
So here (with thanks to the lovely Donna and her excellent blog) is an article on Hsp27, which blocks immune cell activity against tumors and also helps them to grow.
And here is an article on Jagged1, which allows cancer cells to alter bone growth.
Here's to Hope.**
**Although most of my hope in this case resides in the fact that the likely treatments will be pharmaceutical, and therefore potentially profitable enough that Big Pharma and the FDA will move on these discoveries, as they have not done on so many other promising but less profitable treatment options.