Dr. Mark Burkard Awarded Avon Funds to Study Survivors with Metastatic Breast Cancer
Why are some patients able to live for many years after their breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body? Dr. Mark Burkard, a UW Carbone Cancer Center expert in metastatic breast cancer, will try to identify reasons for exceptional long-term survival among women living with metastatic breast cancer that originated more than a decade ago, thanks to a grant from Avon.
Burkard and collaborator Dr. Gabrielle Rocque of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, received the award in June at the conclusion of the two-day, AVON 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer in Chicago.
The grant is for one year of support at the level of $150,000, with the option to renew for a second year of funding at the $150,000 level
“Metastatic breast cancer is incurable,’’ says Burkard, associate professor of medicine at UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “Yet, we have identified a cohort of exceptional long-term survivors who are alive today with metastatic breast cancer that originated over a decade ago. We hope to learn from these patients thereby improving care of others.”
The group Burkard’s team has already identified 53 patients, including some with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer who have lived with metastatic cancer for up to 38 years after initial diagnosis; with HER2-positive breast cancer up to 16 years; and with triple-negative breast cancer up to 15 years.
“Their survival is exceptional, especially since treatment has improved since they were first diagnosed,’’ Burkard says.
The group has teamed with the Dr. Susan Love Foundation and the 380,844-strong volunteer Army of Women to identify hundreds of additional long-term survivors.
To identify the root cause of the exceptional survival, Burkard will investigate whether:
- These cancers are genetically distinct from others;
- The immune system of these survivors is different;
- Or the treatments or behaviors of these individuals are distinctive.
“The results of this study will empower all patients with metastatic breast cancer and their physicians to develop plans that maximize the opportunity for long-survival,’’ he says.
Additionally, some of these tumors may have indolent behavior, meaning that they are slow-growing. Patients with indolent tumors likely will benefit from de-escalation of treatments, especially less chemotherapy, and more focus on multiple anti-estrogen therapies, Burkard says.
Wisconsin collaborators include Dr. Jennifer Laffin, of the collaborative genomics core; Dr. Stephanie McGregor, of pathology; Dr. Zach Morris, of human oncology; and Roxana Alexandridis and Colin Longhurst of Biostatistics.
Date Published: 07/11/2017