November 9, 2022

Pushing the boundaries for metastatic breast cancer

Dr. Mark Burkard in the lab.

Dr. Mark Burkard, associate director of Genomics and Precision Medicine within the UW Carbone Cancer Center, looks at metastatic breast cancer patients in clinical trials and sees hope for the future.

That hope is focused on precision medicine.

“We are headed to a world where each individual cancer is characterized in incredible detail and even though one person may have breast cancer just like someone else, their treatment plan may be very different depending on the unique characteristics of the tumor,” says Burkard.

Current studies use DNA to look at tumors to determine the type of cancer treatment needed. This research shows more of a variety of genetic changes occur when breast cancer begins than previously understood. These genetic changes can vary from one patient to another. Because of these findings, a targeted drug can be strategically selected for a person’s specific cancer in a clinical trial.

According to Burkard, the team works hard to open clinical trials for patients, even those with rare gene mutations.

“We just opened a trial for one patient with metastatic breast cancer who had a mutation in a gene that's found in fewer than one in 1,000 breast cancers,” he says. “We're very invested in matching patients to the best drug to treat their cancer.”

The hope of these studies is to allow people with metastatic breast cancer to live longer with a better quality of life. There are patients who live long term with this as a chronic disease as older chemotherapies are replaced by more targeted drugs that involve fewer risks. He has already identified long-term survivors who live as many as 40 years with metastatic breast cancer and wants to find ways to help others do as well.

Burkard says our patients are evaluated on a case-by-case basis when it comes to treatment options. Patients interested in learning more about clinical trials and treatments should discuss a precision medicine approach with their provider.