Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Research advances in breast cancer

Every day VCU Massey Cancer Center is discovering new and better ways to treat and prevent breast and other cancers. Find out about some of the latest discoveries in breast cancer.

  • In pre-clinical experiments, VCU Massey researchers Paul Dent, Ph.D., Richard Moran, Ph.D., and colleagues found that even the most aggressive breast cancer cells are killed by combining the commonly — but separately used — drugs Pemetrexed and Sorafenib. The promising, synergistic killing effect of this new drug combination may quickly translate to phase 1 clinical trials in breast cancer patients, including triple negative patients whose disease often does not respond to conventional chemotherapy. This is wholly a VCU discovery.
  • Clinical trials are critical to advancing new treatments from the research lab to patients. Massey currently offers more than 10 clinical trials on breast cancer — see the full listing of clinical trials and find out more.
  • VCU Massey is conducting a phase 3 clinical trial that may lead to shortened breast cancer radiation therapy — from five days a week for up to seven weeks to just twice a day for five to 10 days. The study compares the effectiveness of whole breast irradiation (WBI) to partial breast irradiation (PBI) in women with stage 0, I or II breast cancer who underwent lumpectomies. Prior research has shown that radiation treatments to the breast after a lumpectomy help prevent the recurrence of cancer, and WBI is the standard form of treatment. However, recent studies have shown PBI may work just as well as WBI while significantly reducing the treatment’s length. WBI works by irradiating the entire breast, whereas PBI works by targeting the site of the tumor using concentrated radiation applied either externally or internally. This is the first study that directly compares the effectiveness of WBI and PBI treatments.
  • VCU Massey Cancer Center is also conducting another phase III clinical trial studying for the first time the effectiveness of a targeted drug combination on patients with aggressive HER2-positive breast cancer who have not yet had surgery. The trial will compare the effectiveness of three treatments: (1) the conventional treatment for HER2-positive cancer — chemotherapy plus targeted therapy involving Trastuzumab; (2) chemotherapy plus targeted therapy involving the new drug Lapatinib; and (3) chemotherapy plus a combination of Trastuzumab and Lapatinib. Previous studies have shown that Lapatinib, given with chemotherapy, is effective in treating HER2-positive breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. However, this is the first time that the drug has been tested in conjunction with Trastuzumab to determine if there is any beneficial synergistic effect. This study will also reveal any side-effects of the drug combination. Researchers hope these tests can predict which tumors will be completely killed by the drug combinations used in this study.