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Brainstorm Health: Breast Cancer Research, Black Lung Fund, ASCO Updates

Happy Monday, readers. This is Sy.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting—aka the world’s largest cancer conference—began last Friday in Chicago. And while it doesn’t officially wrap up until Tuesday afternoon, the confab’s already produced a flurry of news on the latest in cancer drug development, from updates on immune therapy R&D to the promise (and, importantly, the limitations) of newfangled treatments for a growing number of cancers.

But some of the more striking developments unveiled in the past week involve breast cancer. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that a significant number of women with early-stage breast cancer may not require chemotherapy—which could potentially be a huge deal for tens of thousands of patients at the edges of the disease.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States and worldwide,” note the study authors. “[Secondary treatment with] chemotherapy reduces the risk of recurrence… These findings led a National Institutes of Health consensus panel to recommend adjuvant chemotherapy for most patients, a practice that has contributed to declining breast cancer mortality. However, the majority of patients may receive chemotherapy unnecessarily.”

Specifically, the researchers found that a significant swath of women who have early-stage breast cancer of the estrogen-receptor-positive, HER2-negative variety (with smaller tumors that haven’t spread to the lymph nodes) may not actually benefit from chemotherapy. Exactly which patients fall into this particular range is determined with the help of a genetic test that looks for 21 cancer-associated genes.

The findings suggest that thousands of women could one day forgo a treatment with long-term health ramifications without risking the spread of cancer. And it’s far from the only intriguing report from ASCO—check out some other tidbits below, including on cancer gene and immune therapies, and stay tuned for more coverage.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


The precision-convenience factor with wearables. MobiHealthNews flags a new study finding that heart patients being monitored with Fitbit wearables are pretty likely to check in with/use their devices (a pretty critical part of using such tech to conduct “real world” studies). Notably, the researchers found that these trial participants are more likely to use a Fitbit than the medical-grade (and ostensibly more accurate) monitors that have been used in other studies. (MobiHealthNews)


A whole lot of updates from ASCO. I’ll have a big, old-fashioned roundup on the biggest American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) news later this week. In the meantime, here are just a few highlights: 1) The breast cancer/chemotherapy study we noted up top; 2) A highly personalized cancer therapy that managed to clear a woman’s breast cancer by using immune cells from her own tumor; 3) Nektar Therapeutics stock plunges a whopping 42% following investor disappointment in its skin cancer drug study; 4) Merck stock spikes 2.4% after its flagship cancer immunotherapy Keytruda showed (even more) promising results in treating certain prostate cancer patients, advanced melanoma, and lung cancer; 5) ASCO isn’t all that hyped by President Donald Trump’s drug pricing proposals; 6) Bluebird/Celgene’s bb2121 CAR-T therapy (the kind that re-engineers patients’ cells to fight blood cancer) prevented the progression of multiple myeloma by nearly one full year.


The black lung fund is on the rocks. A government report finds that, barring Congressional action, a fund meant to help U.S. coal miners suffering from black lung disease will expire and require a multi-billion dollar bailout borne by taxpayers. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is currently funded in large part by an excise tax on coal companies. (Reuters)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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