The Power of Prevention: Research, Studies at San Antonio’s CTRC Focus on Preventing Breast Cancer

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by Elizabeth Allen

Some of the best new science focusing on breast cancer prevention is happening right now in San Antonio, at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at the UT Health Science Center. Chemotherapy, radiation, early detection, groundbreaking clinical trials—all have been instrumental in extending the lives of patients with breast cancer. But most patients probably would have chosen to avoid any need for treatment.

That’s why prevention is a primary goal, says Virginia Kaklamani, M.D., director of the breast cancer program at CTRC.

“Breast cancer kills more than 40,000 women a year in the United States,” Dr. Kaklamani says. “Even if we detect cancer early, we still have patients dying of the disease, which is why it is so important to understand how to prevent it in the first place.” Below is an overview of several studies taking place through CTRC.

An Aspirin a Day?

The first is a study that’s going on now and needs a few additional participants. CTRC medical oncologist Andrew Brenner, M.D., is looking for a few more women for his study on aspirin and fish oil.

“It’s open to any healthy, cancer-free woman who is post-menopausal and not currently taking aspirin or omega-3 fatty acids,” Dr. Brenner says.

Cancer researcher Linda deGraffenried, Ph.D., from The University of Texas at Austin, designed the study, working closely with Dr. Brenner.

The study is based on their own findings, published last year in the journal Cancer Research, indicating that some postmenopausal, overweight breast cancer patients who use common anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen have significantly lower breast cancer recurrence rates.

Women interested in participating can call 210-450-5798 and ask about the COX-2 study.

Gym Versus Yoga

This study started as a friendly rivalry between two researchers over which method serves up the better benefits, yoga or a comprehensive workout program.

Amelie Ramirez, Dr.P.H. professor and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at the UT Health Science Center, favored yoga, while her co-principal investigator Daniel Carlos Hughes, Ph.D., assistant professor at the IHPR, thought a comprehensive workout would yield greater benefits. They designed a small study, funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, bringing in a yoga instructor who is also a physical therapist, and a team of laboratory scientists at CTRC.

A third of the participants were assigned to a yoga class designed for their specific needs by Nydia Tijerina Darby, PT, DPT, MS, owner of Nydia’s Yoga Therapy in San Antonio. Another third were assigned an individualized comprehensive exercise program designed by Dr. Hughes, and the others were encouraged to engage in three hours of physical activity a week on their own.

This study yielded lots of data and results that they are just beginning to sort through.

One aspect of the study that made a big impression on Dr. Hughes was the way experts from different fields— from laboratory scientists to behavioral health specialists—brought their unique perspectives to a complex situation to help everyone understand it better.

“I’ve learned that we really need to look at this information holistically, and include all the variables,” Dr. Hughes says.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Dr. Ramirez is also principal investigator on another unconventional study funded by Susan G. Komen, with co-principal investigator Michael Wargovich, Ph.D., who holds the CTRC Council Distinguished Chair in Oncology. Dr. Wargovich is teaming with Chef Iverson Brownell to teach breast cancer survivors how to incorporate foods with anti-inflammatory properties into their diets.

People’s dietary choices can affect inflammation, the process the body uses to protect itself in response to irritants or injury, Dr. Wargovich says.

While inflammation is an important part of the body’s immune response to things like wounds and infections, if it becomes chronic, inflammation is linked to causing illness, like cancer.

Some beneficial anti-inflammatory foods are deep marine fish, dark leafy green vegetables, bright multi-colored vegetables, black and green teas, and many spices and herbs.

Sarah Pascual, a breast cancer survivor who participated in the cooking demonstration and lectures, says she already feels the benefits.

“I find myself with more energy, healthier, and I feel like I sleep better,” Pascual says.

Dr. Kaklamani, who heads the breast cancer program at CTRC, hopes that a careful examination of all the studies will help us better understand how to ward off cancer in the first place.

“What we know is obesity increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer,” Dr. Kaklamani says. “We know that exercise helps prevent breast cancer, independent of obesity. We think that what happens is that exercise and a healthy diet change our gene expression, helping the good genes work better. By understanding the mechanisms behind all this, we can design new strategies to prevent cancer.”

 

UT Medicine CTRCElizabeth Allen is a media relations officer at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. To learn more about the UT Health Science Center, visit www.uthscsa.edu; to learn more about the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC), visit www.ctrc.net.

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