News emerging from breast cancer researchers in recent months has challenged established treatment practices but an oncologist who leads a large annual symposium on Long Island about the disorder plans to put those developments into perspective later this month.
Dr. Francis Arena, director of the NYU Langone-Arena Oncology Center in Lake Success, said he and a team of cancer specialists will help clarify new data for patients and survivors at the meeting.
News has arrived at a clip this year: Should women diagnosed with the Stage 0 abnormality known as ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, forget about surgery as suggested by a sweeping Canadian study in August? Do tests examining patients' genes genuinely identify people who can skip chemo?
And there's reams more, Arena said. "All of it is on the table -- everything," said Arena, a founder of the Sass Foundation for Medical Research in Great Neck, the nonprofit that sponsors the symposium. The meeting is scheduled for Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale. This year's meeting marks its 21st. "When people hear these reports it can be confusing," Arena said, referring to DCIS. "So sometimes we have to back up a little bit and ask whether we have all of the information."
DCIS is a noninvasive form of breast cancer, undergoing surgery isn't necessary, according to researchers in Toronto. They say the abnormality probably can be left alone while patient and doctor engage in "watchful waiting." The death rate for women with DCIS was 3.3 percent, according to the report, whether they underwent surgery. A flurry of medical investigations for years has argued that DCIS is overtreated.
Despite the findings, doctors still have no idea which patient's DCIS will become invasive and which will remain a quiescent cluster of cells. "There is a certain percentage of patients who will develop an invasive cancer, and even though that number is small, it's real," Arena said.
Genetic testing, meanwhile, is transforming the treatment landscape because it's revealing patients who will benefit from chemo and those who can skip it. Arena hopes to help attendees think differently about breast cancer, a condition he insists should not be thought of as a single disorder. "There are many subtypes with their own agenda, which is why we try to make the therapy fit the biology of the disease," he said.
Dr. Dwight De Risi, a Great Neck oncologist and longtime colleague of Arena, said the meeting is not too formal. "Frank is really good about sitting down with patients and giving them guidance," De Risi said. De Risi, also a breast cancer specialist, established the Lean On Me Breast Cancer Network, a support group that pairs the newly diagnosed with a breast cancer survivor.
He praised for Arena and the annual meeting: "Some patients come away with information that saves their lives, and it's not just women," he said. One year a male waiter tending tables heard a luncheon speaker talk about the importance of having a lump in the breast properly diagnosed. "That gentleman had a lump but had ignored it," said De Risi, adding that it turned out to be cancer. So the meeting, he said, has importance for men and women.