Researchers tackle metastatic breast cancer

When Miriam Slome was diagnosed with stage 4, or metastatic, breast cancer two years ago, it had spread to her bone marrow, abdomen and ovaries.

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Miriam Slome

CBS News

“I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced fear the way I did when I was told I had metastatic breast cancer,” Slome said.

The five-year survival rate is 26 percent.

“We have a lot of work to do to improve survival for metastatic breast cancer,” said Dr. Linda Vahdat, director of breast cancer research at New York Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

“We understand how tumors grow, we understand how they spread, we have a lot of things that make people feel better, but at the end of the day it’s still their breast cancer that’s killing them,” she said. 

“I always tell people that while stage 4 breast cancer is not a curable disease, it is a highly treatable disease.”

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Dr. Linda Vahdat

CBS News

But not enough treatments exist. Vahdat is working on a way to alter the environment in areas where cancer cells may spread. She is testing a drug that reduces the body’s level of copper, an element those tumors need to flourish.

Essentially, the cancer cells are looking for a place to land in the body, and the therapy makes it inhospitable for the cells to land and grow.

Slome is on a different drug, approved just last year, that inhibits tumor growth for certain types of metastatic breast cancer. Right now, she has no detectable level of cancer. 

“I think that things are starting to change, but it’s still way early in the game,” Slome said. “I want to live to see the word remission and cure apply to me too.”

But for right now, they do not.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook