Metastatic Breast Cancer Researchers Address MBC Alliance Meeting This Week

February 1, 2016
Shirley Mertz is representing MBCN

Advocates, researchers, industry and government representatives are at the Alliance’s meeting, including MBCN’s own Shirley Mertz

 

Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance Research Task Force Meets Today in Dallas; Focus of Discussion is Improving Length and Quality of Life for People Living With Metastatic Disease

Dallas – February 1, 2016 – Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is cancer that originated in the breast but has spread to other parts of the body, such as liver, lung, bones and brain. It causes >40,000 deaths every year in the U.S., a number that has remained unchanged for three decades.  

This alarming fact is driving the advocate-led Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance (“the Alliance”) to convene 60 experts from patient advocacy, academia, industry and government to discuss barriers in MBC research and possible solutions to better coordinate and accelerate research and translation to help patients sooner.

“As a person living with MBC each day, I’m grateful for the scientists and experts who have taken time out of their busy schedules to help guide the Alliance in the most thoughtful directions for MBC research,” commented Shirley Mertz, President of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and Co-Chair of the Research Task Force.  

Dr. Danny R. Welch, Professor and Chair of Cancer Biology at the University of Kansas Cancer Center noted at the start of the meeting that “My career has been focused on research on metastasis and putting an end to breast cancer. I have never seen as much energy, collaboration and excitement to work together – across academic, patient advocacy, industry and government sectors- as I have by working with this Alliance.”  

“As Co-Chair of the Alliance Research Task Force, along with Shirley Mertz, we’ve been working with these experts for the last eight months [by phone and webinar] discussing barriers to MBC research,” said Stephanie Reffey, Managing Director, Evaluation and Outcomes at Susan G. Komen, today. “These prior meetings culminated in today’s “Think Tank” in Dallas, where we are devising specific, actionable projects the Alliance can lead to accelerate MBC research.”  

In 2014, the Alliance released its Changing the Landscape for People Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer Report, which analyzed 224 clinical trials, 2281 funded research grants, 7900 MBC patient responses to surveys and 175 literature articles on quality of life and epidemiological studies.  

“Our research of the scientific landscape found a number of gaps and challenges in lab research and clinical trials impeding progress in scientific research,” said Chair of the Alliance, Dr. Marc Hurlbert. “After today, the Alliance’s task is to now facilitate a cooperative effort to review the objectives from this meeting and develop actions that can be taken in the immediate term. Given the toll MBC takes on patients and their caregivers, we have a responsibility to waste no time acting on the direction from this important meeting.”  

Representatives at the meeting in Dallas include:
Advocate Nonprofits: Breast Cancer Research Foundation, BreastCancerTrials.org, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, Patient Advocates In Research (PAIR), Research Advocacy Network, Susan G. Komen, Theresa’s Research Foundation  

Academic Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Broad Institute, Dana-Farber/ Harvard Cancer Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Institute of Cancer Research (UK), Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, University of California San Francisco, University of Kansas Cancer Center, University of Michigan, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, University of Southern California, University of Washington School of Medicine, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
 

Government: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Cancer Institute
 

Industry: Eli Lilly and Company, Genentech, Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation, Pfizer Worldwide Research & Development
 

About the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance
The Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance is led by advocates and, since forming with 15 groups in October 2013, has grown to be the largest breast cancer alliance in the U.S. with 40 of the leading cancer charities, advocacy groups and individuals and pharmaceutical industry partners. The Alliance vision is to transform and improve the lives of people living with metastatic breast cancer. The Alliance’s work focuses on three outcomes:
1. Advancing progress in scientific research
2. Increasing understanding of the disease and access to information and support
3. Building awareness of how metastatic disease differs from early stage breast cancer
 

More information about the Alliance is available at www.mbcalliance.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mbcalliance/
Twitter: @mbcalliance #MBCResearch
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/mbcalliance

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MBCN Supports Metastatic Breast Cancer Researchers at University of Chicago With Leadership Awards

November 12, 2015
MBCN's Shirley Mertz (left) and Katherine O'Brien (far right) with leadership award recipients Dr. Nanda and Dr. Chmura.

MBCN’s Shirley Mertz (left) and Katherine O’Brien (far right) with leadership award recipients Dr. Nanda and Dr. Chmura.

At a Metastatic Breast Cancer Forum held by the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center on October 27, 2015,  patients and caregivers heard from two University of Chicago clinicians, oncologist Dr. Rita Nanda and radiation oncologist Dr. Steven Chmura, who shared current and new approaches aimed at improving treatment outcomes for women who live with metastatic breast cancer, a currently incurable, but treatable form of breast cancer that ends the lives of 110 people every day and 40,000 lives annually in the United States.

At the conclusion of the presentations, Shirley Mertz, a metastatic breast cancer patient, and President of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), an all-volunteer, non-profit, nationwide patient-led organization, noted that although metastatic breast cancer is responsible for virtually all breast cancer deaths, a recent analysis revealed that only seven percent of all government and privately funded grants from 2000-2013 focused on improving outcomes for those living with metastatic breast cancer. Breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the US, and it is the leading cause of cancer death for women globally. “We know research holds the key to changing those statistics,” said Mertz.

Mertz then announced that MBCN wants to support the ongoing research of Dr. Rita Nanda and Dr. Steven Chmura by presenting an  MBCN Research Leadership Award to each in the amount of $30,000. Mertz said that the awards are made possible from contributions sent to MBCN from individuals, families and work colleagues who want to honor or remember loved ones, colleagues, and friends with metastatic breast cancer.

Mertz noted that Dr. Nanda’s research has been directed toward the treatment of triple-negative metastatic breast cancer. She has sought to identify novel anti-tumor treatments, such as using the drug pembrolizumab, to activate the body’s immune system in these patients. Immunotherapy has been shown to improve patient outcomes in advanced lung cancer and advanced melanoma, and Dr. Nanda’s research advances knowledge about using immunotherapy in metastatic breast cancer. (Here’s Dr. Nanda’s triple negative presentation from MBCN’s 2012 national conference.)

Dr. Steven Chmura is leading a national team of radiation oncologists in a national Phase II/III open trial that randomizes breast cancer patients with only 1-2 metastases, called oligometastatic breast cancer, to compare survival outcomes in standard of care therapy with or without stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) and/or surgical ablation. Mertz said the Research Leadership Award from MBCN insures that participating study sites can perform needed biomarker tests of study participants. Outcomes of the trial could impact how metastatic disease is treated in the future in a subset of patients. (Here is a copy of Dr. Chmura’s presentation: Chmura talk_10_27_15. For an overview of Dr. Chmura’s work, see this video from MBCN’s 2012 National Conference.)

ABOUT THE METASTATIC BREAST CANCER NETWORK

The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, a national, not-for-profit organization, was founded in 2004 to raise awareness about the kind of breast cancer that is rarely discussed in the breast cancer support groups or the media—metastatic breast cancer. Unlike early stage breast cancer, in which cancer cells are confined to the breast, in metastatic breast cancer, cancer cells have traveled from the breast to other sites in the body. Led by patient advocates, MBCN has worked to offer education and information to patients and their caregivers through its website (mbcn.org); targeted brochures developed for the public and those newly diagnosed; and an annual conference for metastatic patients at major comprehensive cancer centers.


MBCN Year in Review – 2013

December 28, 2013

by Shirley Mertz, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network President

As we approach the end of the year, I want to report to you what MBCN has accomplished in 2013– with your help and support.

We created a new logo this year to better reflect our mission—educating, empowering and advocating.    mbcn_rgbVHKversion

Here are the major activities of 2013  and how they supported our mission:

EDUCATING AND BUILDING AWARENESS

Dr Don Dizon answering a question during his talk on Living with MBC.

Dr Don Dizon answering a question during his talk on Living with MBC

•  Our 7th annual national metastatic breast cancer conference in cooperation with experts at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas.  Over 225 patients and caregivers attended the September 20-22 event.  All the presentations were recorded and are on our website.

brochureMBCN partnered with Living Beyond Breast Cancer to develop and write an expanded booklet called, “Guide for the Newly Diagnosed Patient.”  It can be ordered for free or downloaded on our website.  We urge members to take copies to their oncologist’s office so patients can benefit from it.

•MBCN expanded the amount and kind of information on our website (mbcn.org).  There patients can find our national conferences’ recordings; info about clinical trials, pain and supportive services; financial resources,  inspirational stories from those living with our disease; and advocacy strategies.

•Our new T-Shirt was popular and part of our October 13 MBC Awareness Day campaign.tshirt

•Our short videos were also well received, especially during October.

how do you live

How do you LIVE with metastatic breast cancer?

useyourvoice

Use Your Voice

thingspplsay

Dumb things people say about metastatic breast cancer

caregivers

Celebrating caregivers

 

•Each day in October we posted a Fact a Day on Facebook for you to share with friends and spread education and awareness of living with metastatic disease. See the 31 Days of October.

• At the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), MBCN was part of a panel that explained clinical trials to other patient advocates and the challenges facing metastatic patients to decide and participate in clinical trials.

•MBCN partnered with Novartis to develop and edit an online magazine for caregivers of metastatic breast cancer patients. cate


EMPOWERING

 •At our annual conference, a special session on how to advocate on behalf of the metastatic community was developed and presented to attendees.  An “Advocacy Kit,” complete with instructions and tools, is on our website for any patient, family member or supporter to use.

•MBCN has guided, informed and empowered several patients and/or their supporters who want to host an educational and/or fundraising event in their community or local hospital.  See our fundraising section on the website.  MBCN provides free materials for these events.

•MBCN encouraged its members to participate in quality surveys that sought to identify challenges and concerns of patients.

•MBCN provided opportunities for our members to speak out in videos and focus groups, such as these:

livingthereality

Living the reality of metastatic breast cancer

 

livingwithmbc

Living with metastatic breast cancer – MBC Alliance video

ADVOCATING

alliance • Based on a vision by MBCN, the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance was formally announced to the public this year during our Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day campaign.  The MBC Alliance consists of 16 breast cancer organizations who have joined together, driven by a vision to transform and improve the lives of women and men living with metastatic breast cancer.  See my remarks at our first face-to-face meeting.

 •MBCN partnered with SHARE to develop and participate in a webinar for experienced and new oncologists entitled, “Communicating Hope and Trust:  The Patients’ Point of View.”

•MBCN has a seat on the Board of Directors of the National Breast Cancer Coalition.  We advocate on behalf of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 to find the causes of metastasis and participate in strategic planning and implementation of that goal.

•MBCN served on the Global Advocate Planning Committee to organize and plan sessions for global advocates at the Advanced Breast Cancer 2 Global Conference in Lisbon where doctors discuss and decide on treatment guidelines for the disease.  The advocates discussed common global challenges facing patients with metastatic disease. MBCN reported on the findings of a US survey of metastatic breast cancer patients that asked patients about quality of life issues.

Those are the highlights of 2013 and we are planning an ambitious year for 2014!

If you have questions for us, or ideas you want to share, please leave your comments below or contact me directly at s.mertz@mbcn.org.

Sincerely,

Shirley Mertz
President, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network

A Wake Up Call for Young People With Metastatic Breast Cancer…And All of Us

April 8, 2013

By Katherine O”Brien, Secretary and PR Chair, MBCN

Do you remember “Love Story?” Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) and Jennifer Cavilleri (Ali McGraw) are the improbable lovers who defy parental disapproval and get married.

The only way to be surrounded by more sap would be to visit Vermont during the peak months of maple syrup production. Remember the hilarious send up on “Carol Burnett”?

Reviewers at Amazon call “Love Story” a cheesy sob story. (“If I ever hear Ali MacGraw say ‘preppie’ again I will probably spontaneously combust,” declares one commenter.)

Sobering Reality of Real Life…

I agree with all of those observations. And, a few years ago, I would also have hooted about a specific plot point—McGraw’s character dies at age 25 after being diagnosed with leukemia. Unfortunately, I have lost many friends to metastatic breast cancer (MBC). I know from painful experience that people do indeed die from breast cancer in their 20s and 30s.

Bridget Spence was 29.

What can you say about a 29-year-old-girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. And that this just totally sucks.

Bridget was diagnosed with breast cancer at 21. She had no family history. I used to think cases like hers were rare. Now I’m not so sure. As a patient advocate for people with metastatic breast cancer, I know a lot of people with both early and advanced breast cancer and they are young, old,  and all points in between. But I was frankly shocked when I saw the turnout for the “Under 40 & Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer” panel at the 2012 MBCN Conference.

Jen Smith, 36, has been living with Metastatic Breast Cancer since age 31, shortly after her son’s birth.

It seems like I know an awful lot of young mothers like Jen Smith  with metastatic breast cancer. Now, I consider myself fairly well informed on breast cancer risks such as gender, family history, dense breasts and so on. I knew that NOT having children increased a woman’s risk, due to the unopposed flow of estrogen. But until this year, I never knew that recent childbirth can temporarily increase one’s breast cancer risk. As noted on www.cancer.gov: 

Women who have recently given birth have a short-term increase in risk that declines after about 10 years. The reason for this temporary increase is not known, but some researchers believe that it may be due to the effect of high levels of hormones on microscopic cancers or to the rapid growth of breast cells during pregnancy (15). [Source: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/reproductive-history]

I don’t recall ever seeing any article or other information on this issue. I would guess that many obstetricians assume—as seems reasonable—that cancer is a disease of aging. And nursing mothers have a host of potential breast problems: blocked milk ducts, soreness, etc.

But I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks more young women—mothers and non-mothers alike—are getting metastatic breast cancer.

Is MBC Incidence  Rising in Young Women?

Rebecca H. Johnson, MD, of Seattle (Washington) Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington in Seattle, noticed that evidence from the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database suggested that  incidence of metastatic breast cancer in young women is on the rise. Johnson and her fellow researchers recently released a study that found “a small but statistically significant increase” in metastatic breast cancer over the last three decades among U.S. women aged 25 to 39 years.

The researchers found that in women aged 25 to 39 years, the incidence of breast cancer with distant involvement at diagnosis increased from 1.53 per 100,000 in 1976 to 2.90 per 100,000 in 2009, representing an average compounded increase of 2.07% per year over the 34-year period. No such increase was seen in any other age group or in any other extent-of-disease subgroup of the same age range.

The rate of increasing incidence of distant disease was inversely proportional to age at diagnosis, with the greatest increase occurring in women aged 25 to 34 years.

Dr. Johnson was diagnosed with breast cancer (presumably early stage) at age age 27. “I’d meet young women patients with breast cancer and it seemed like a lot of friends of friends had breast cancer,” she told @newsJAMA. “And yet the literature kept saying that breast cancer in young women was rare.”

Her  study didn’t  evaluate cause. “The next steps for researchers will be to examine potential causes for this trend and look at etiologies,” she said. “Given there’s such a change over a short amount of time, we may find modifiable risk factors or potentially toxic exposures that are fueling this increase.”

She further explained that the research shouldn’t be taken out of context.  “What the average young woman [under 50] should not do is go get a mammogram, because while on a population level we saw a statistically significant increase, it’s not a large increase of risk for an individual. One thing that has the potential to affect young women’s survival is earlier detection—seeing a physician if you find a lump instead of ignoring it.”

How Can We Manage What We Don’t Measure?

CURE magazine’s Dr. Debu Tripathy noted that the research is based on “cancer registry data, which is very good at capturing data at the time of diagnosis, but not long-term follow-up (other than death). So this is really looking at the less common situation of women who actually present with metastases at the time of their original diagnosis – which only happens about 5 to 10 percent of the time, and perhaps more so in women who do not have access to health care and present with higher stage cancers.”

Dr. Tripathy is correct about that cancer registry data. NCI and SEER database record only incidence, initial treatment and mortality data. And, as Dr.Tripathy further correctly observes, most people do NOT present with metastatic diagnosis. The cancer registry does not track recurrence—which is how the majority of people are thrust into the metastatic breast cancer ranks.

So here’s the good news: Most people don’t start with metastatic breast cancer, which is what the cancer registry tracks.

…And the bad news: We really have no idea what’s going on with, you know, the MAJORITY of people who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer after a recurrence. As Dr. Tripathy says, other than death, the cancer registry doesn’t concern itself with long-term data.

So to recap: We know for sure that 40,000 US people die from breast cancer every year. We know that 5 to10 percent of those with metastatic breast cancer were Stage IV from their first diagnosis. So what about the 90 to 95% of those who had a metastatic recurrence? The cancer registry does not track them—until they die.

“While [Dr. Johnson’s] report should not cause alarm or even affect any of our care guidelines, it may be a wake-up call to truly understand what might be driving this,” concludes Dr. Tripathy.

May be a wake up call?

MAY???

Well, gosh, no rush or anything. I mean, if it wouldn’t be a bother, maybe somebody could work on that truly understanding thing.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. And so are my fellow patient advocates.

If Not Now, When?

“We need focused research to change incurable metastatic breast cancer into a treatable, chronic condition like HIV-AIDS–where patients can now live for 20-30 years with treatment after their diagnosis,” says Shirley Mertz, President of MBCN. “If gay men, who were then scorned by society in the 1980s, could demand and receive focused research and treatments for their disease, why can’t we women–who are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers AND over half of the population–receive similar research that will find strategies to keep us alive for 20-30 years?

“Are we not worthy of this effort?  Are we ignored because we quietly live with our disease?”

So, yes, Dr. Tripathy, you bet your stethoscope this is a wake-up call.

Because as Shirley says, “How many more thousands of us must die before the public and our sisters, who have survived early stage breast cancer, stand with us and for us?”

Cancer at any age and any stage is a terrible thing. But it is especially cruel when it happens to young people–women like Bridget Spence, who at age 29 should have just been getting started in life. There are too many women like Bridget, too many of my friends.

Olga Simkin was 34.

Maria Madden was 37.

Jennifer Lynne Strutzel Berg was 37.

Susan Niebur was 39.

Samantha Pritchett was 40.

Dana Robinson was 41.

Rachel Cheetham Moro was 42.

Zoh Vivian Murphy was 45.

Suzanne Hebert was 47.

Martha Rall was 49.

I have to repeat Shirley’s question. How many thousands more of us must die?


Meet Shirley Mertz, MBCN’s New President

January 15, 2013

By Katherine O’Brien

Shirley at the 34th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium

At a 2009 breast cancer seminar, I met two Chicago-area MBCN volunteers: Joani Gudeman and Shirley Mertz. I had never met another person with metastatic breast cancer. Joani and Shirley made me feel less alone. Their activism inspired me.

The meeting was held in a hotel ballroom on a Sunday morning. There were several hundred people in attendance and most were casually dressed. Shirley, however, was  professionally attired in a perfectly tailored suit. Who would get dressed up on the weekend? Certainly not me. But there was Shirley, dressed for success. Although she was not part of the medical panel fielding questions, Shirley was summoned to the stage to read a proclamation about October 13,  National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

In 2008, Shirley and her fellow volunteer, the late Susan Davis,  launched MBCN’s drive to formally establish October 13 as National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. In October 2009, they succeeded: The Senate and House each unanimously passed a resolution to support that designation.

I remember watching Shirley striding purposefully to the stage. She absolutely belonged up there–she commanded attention and respect. Almost a year later, I met Shirley again in Indianapolis at MBCN’s  2010 Annual Conference on Metastatic Breast Cancer. Again, I was struck by Shirley’s leadership–she moderated several sessions. As I got to know her a little bit better, I saw flashes of Shirley’s humor–and that made me like her even more. She’s serious in her advocacy efforts, but she enjoys a good joke and will often tell one on herself.

In 2011 and 2012 as I did more volunteer work with MBCN, I learned that Shirley, a former high school principal from northwest suburban Chicago, also earned a law degree. I don’t think Shirley divulged this information–she did share, however, that she is a proud graduate of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s (NBCC) Project Lead, a science training program for activists. Shirley became a consumer reviewer for the DOD Breast Cancer Research Program and advocate for national health care reform. In 2008, she personally asked Senator Evan Bayh to sponsor a Senate Resolution for MBC Awareness Day and then co-chaired the team that traveled to Washington to lobby for Congressional passage. In 2011, she was honored as a Champions of Change in breast cancer at the White House.

Shirley Mertz with the University of Chicago’s Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD

Shirley was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2003, twelve years after being treated for DCIS. Like me, she wanted to meet other people dealing with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. She was appalled to learn how few resources existed and determined to make a difference. “My passion is being a voice for metastatic breast cancer patients,” Shirley told me. “I have not hesitated to share my experiences with this disease because I want to motivate others to speak up. Joining together with a focused message, metastatic breast cancer patients can improve outcomes in the clinic.”

Shirley’s own story illustrates some key messages for people with metastatic breast cancer. “Allow yourself time to cry, then put on steel armor and learn to take charge of your care,” Shirley told a University of Chicago interviewer. ” You must be your own advocate.”

After her recurrence, Shirley’s former oncologist based her treatment on the biological characteristics of the 2003 tumor. But it was clear the treatment was failing. Shirley lobbied for a new biopsy–and ultimately got one, after pursuing a second opinion. The biopsy revealed the pathology of Shirley’s cancer had changed–it wasn’t the same subtype as her original diagnosis.   “A great oncologist will never be offended if you ask for a second opinion,” she says. By sharing her story, Shirley has helped untold people.

Earlier this year, MBCN named Shirley as its president. In addition to targeting underserved areas of the US, she’s committed to raising the group’s profile with metastatic researchers. “If scientists could meet us and personally hear our needs, that would be a powerful message,” she says. “With the board’s help and enthusiasm, we will take our commitment to patients to another level.”

You go, Shirley!

Katherine O’Brien is MBCN’s Secretary and Public Relations Chair