Genetic advancements at Cleveland Clinic give hope for breast cancer treatment

Posted at 7:49 PM, Oct 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-06 19:51:42-04

When it comes to breast cancer, you have probably heard of the BRCA gene. It greatly increases your risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. But recently, genetics research has advanced significantly and Cleveland Clinic is on the cutting edge.

“Genetics has tremendously, exponentially increased in knowledge,” noted Dr. Charis Eng, Chair of the Cleveland Clinic Genomic Medicine Institute.

Dr. Eng is one of only four clinical cancer geneticists formally trained here in the U.S.

“We have the only training program in the country here at the Cleveland Clinic,” she said.

And Dr. Eng is helping to lead the charge when it comes to potentially life-saving discoveries about breast cancer.

“Many years ago, we only thought that this was BRCA1 and 2,” she explained. “Actually, there are at least ten genes like BRCA1 and 2 which, when altered, predisposes to breast cancer, predisposes to breast cancer at a much earlier age than the average of 55.”

Doctor Eng says many of those genes have been discovered right at the Clinic and studying them means doctors can choose or create therapies specifically targeted to the gene alterations responsible for breast cancer.

“With the targeted therapy, the hope is, and this is true, that the drug goes right, like a smart bomb, right to the genetic alteration after cancer,” she said. “And we're using this every day. Both the inherited gene knowledge as well as the breast cancer gene knowledge.”

And it is not just breast cancer. Because of this genetics research, doctors know which specific organs to screen for other cancers, as well as when.

“We can actually, precisely tailor when to start screening so that there's early detection and cure, and in certain cases, prevention,” Dr. Eng explained.

Doctor Eng was part of a new study just published this week. Her team discovered bacteria in breast cancer that is not present in normal breast tissue. Doctors always thought cancers were sterile. They are now looking into possible new treatments for breast cancer because of this, including probiotics.