While science sometimes moves forward in quantum leaps, it more often advances in small steps, and this year's San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium demonstrated both sides of that coin.
Our readers ask us many questions about the research process: How are new ideas generated and tested? When are they ready to be applied to routine patient care? Hearing about advances in the news can be confusing, because these fundamental questions are usually not addressed.
Our coverage of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), illustrating the vast potential of the world’s largest annual gathering of breast cancer researchers and clinicians, sheds some light on those issues. While science sometimes moves forward in quantum leaps, it more often advances in small steps, and this year’s symposium demonstrated both sides of that coin. For example, one study showed the potential benefits of blocking ovarian function in premenopausal women who are receiving the standard breast cancer drug tamoxifen. This could be a practice-changing finding. On the other hand, the very preliminary observation of a few responses to immunotherapy may not be ready for general application. Still, it could have huge implications by creating new research directions that could have a big impact on patient care in the next few years. In this issue of CURE, you will read more about those results, along with interpretations and perspectives on the findings.
Now in its 37th year, SABCS has maintained its original mission of bringing together a wide array of basic and clinical scientists, population study experts, and, more recently, patient advocates. There are very few concurrent sessions, so that everyone is able to listen to presentations across all the different disciplines. This “cross-pollination” is conducive to multidisciplinary interaction. A radiologist might formulate a novel research question after hearing a new perspective from a cell biologist. A patient may ask a clinical investigator to expand upon the side effects of a new drug being tested in a phase 1 trial. This rich environment is a much more democratic way to move the field forward, and is in itself an experiment in scientific culture—one that we hope will more effectively make a difference for patients.
Debu Tripathy, MD
Professor of Medicine Chair, Department of Breast Medical Oncology
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center