Disparities discussed at San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium

Mosaic art

Treatable mutations, obesity-driven cancer and clinical trial access were among the topics discussed during the December 2021 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Researchers from the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio presented results of multiple lines of study during the international symposium, initiated and owned by the Mays Cancer Center and operated in conjunction with the American Association for Cancer Research.

Among the symposium presenters and topics:

  • Assessing the effects of novel endocrine therapy on breast cancer patient outcomes. Virginia Kaklamani, MD, DSc, leader of the breast oncology program at the Mays Cancer Center and professor of medicine at UT Health San Antonio, presented a study of breast cancer patients to assess changes that occur between the time they are diagnosed with early-stage disease and the time they are diagnosed with metastatic disease, showing that many genetic mutations take place, many of which can be targeted with drugs already at our disposal. The Mays Cancer Center was a participating site in a first-in-humans phase 1 trial of a new breast cancer medication for which the center was heavily involved in the drug’s development.
  • Studying the connection between obesity and triple-negative breast cancer. Suryavathi Viswanadhpalli, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, presented on the increased risk of recurrence and death from triple-negative breast cancer for women who are obese, as well as results suggesting a new therapeutic agent to treat obesity-associated triple-negative breast cancer.
  • Investigating the effects of an inhibiting enzyme to block tumor growth. Henriette Balinda, PhD, a Mays Cancer Center research scientist, presented a study on endocrine therapy as a treatment for breast cancer. Approximately 75% of breast cancers are estrogen receptor-positive, making endocrine therapy an important treatment option. However, this is not a cure, as many patients develop resistance to the treatment and ultimately succumb to their disease. “In our laboratory, we investigated the effects of inhibiting fatty acid synthase [FASN], a key enzyme in lipid metabolism in endocrine therapy-resistant breast tumors,” Balinda said. “We found that FASN inhibition blocks proliferation and tumor growth of these therapy-resistant breast cancers.”
  • Understanding and reducing treatment disparities. Gail Tomlinson, MD, PhD, professor and division director of pediatric hematology-oncology at UT Health San Antonio, presented a project — funded through the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas — involving clinical outreach to areas of South Texas to evaluate individuals and families for cancer predisposition. “An interesting finding was that genetic ‘variants of unknown significance,’ for which a genetic test result could not be definitively interpreted, were nearly twice as frequent in individuals of Hispanic background, and more than three times as frequent in African Americans, reflecting a significant disparity in population genomic knowledge of these minority groups,” Tomlinson said.
  • Recruiting Hispanics into clinical trials. Amelie Ramirez, DrPH, associate director of cancer outreach and engagement at the Mays Cancer Center, spoke on the many barriers to clinical trial participation among the largely Hispanic region of South Texas — from a lack of knowledge or understanding of trials to social determinants of health that make it harder for them to participate, such as health care coverage, transportation, language, cultural issues and discrimination. The Mays Cancer Center has taken multiple steps to engage more Hispanics in clinical cancer research. Efforts include initiatives to create Hispanic-focused recruitment strategies and systems for clinical trials in cancer treatment and on improving patient-provider communication and trust.


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