Why does Komen support research into breast cancer?


By Dr. Kathy Miller
Indiana University Cancer Center

Why does Susan G. Komen support research into breast cancer?  Put quite simply, because women still die.  Don’t get me wrong, awareness, screening, and access to high quality care are important  – but our best treatments sometimes fail. Even when treatment is effective, the toxicity can be devastating. That’s why Komen’s support of research is so important. Research puts the hope in the promise.


Dr. Kathy Miller

As a Komen Scholar, I’m grateful for the support. Your work has made these studies possible.

Chemotherapy resistance in triple negative disease

Patients with triple negative disease often receive chemotherapy before surgery. In most cases the cancer shrinks dramatically, and in some cases the cancer is entirely eradicated. But what do you do when those best treatment don’t work. Patients with lots of disease left after chemo have a very high risk of recurrence.  A Komen supported trial allowed us to test two new therapies in this high risk population. Importantly we collected tumor and blood samples, so we could study the causes of drug resistance and look for biomarkers of recurrence. Data from this trial supported the development of EA1131, a randomized phase III trial comparing two different chemotherapy agents in patients with TNBC who have residual disease after pre-surgery therapy. We also found that the immune system doesn’t recognize these resistant tumors, suggesting that immunotherapy might be helpful. Indeed immunotherapy is being studied in this setting in a separate trial coordinated by the Southwest Oncology Group.

The intersection of recurrence, late toxicity, and survivorship – current and future work

As treatment becomes more successful, attention appropriately shifts to survivorship and the long-term burden of therapy. Patients frequently report ‘fatigue’ as a consequence of breast cancer therapy but the true impact of various cancer treatments on patient’s daily activities (the amount of energy they use) and their physical fitness (power generation) has not been measured. Working with Dr. Jeffrey Sledge (U. Wisconsin), we have initiated a pilot trial using state of the art technology to measure the impact of various treatments including surgery and radiation, anti-estrogen drugs, and chemotherapy during the first year after diagnosis, evaluating both the impact of acute treatment and the degree of spontaneous recovery. In addition, the study explores the relationship of these energy parameters to changes in insulin resistance, body mass index, body composition, and patient reported physical activity, fatigue, and overall quality of life. Our data documents a truly dramatic decline (some patients would be below the safe threshold to initiate physical therapy) in fitness at 6 months with no indication of ‘spontaneous’ recovery at 1 year. Data from this pilot trial led directly to an individualized intervention to decrease the impact of therapy and improve survivorship. This next trial will start enrolling patients in April.

Support for research has never been so important or so in jeopardy. I look forward to joining you in Kansas City (on March 25) to share more of our latest research results.


Click here for more information on the 2017 Susan G. Komen Greater Kansas City Pink Promise Conference & Luncheon | March 25 at the Overland Park Conference Center.

Komen Scholars

The Komen Scholars are an advisory group of 60 distinguished scholars and leaders in breast cancer research and advocacy. Each has made significant contributions to advancing the field or demonstrated significant promise of doing so in the future and all are committed to furthering Komen’s mission.

Led by the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) which serves as the executive committee, the Komen Scholars are an international group with a wide range of expertise, including clinical research, laboratory research, pathology, prevention, radiation oncology, surgery, and other research disciplines and specialties, allowing them to advise Komen in a variety of capacities. While their primary responsibility is to lead and participate as reviewers in Komen’s scientific peer review process, the Komen Scholars also serve as ambassadors and experts in our communities and across the Affiliate Network.

In addition, several of the Scholars are Advocates in Science who ensure that the unique perspectives of those affected by breast cancer are fully integrated into decisions at every step of Komen’s mission.

See the full breadth of the current set of Komen Scholars here!

Annie’s Story: Three-time Cancer Survivor to Keynote Pink Promise Conference in March


Annie Parker was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1951. When she was only 14 years old, she lost her mother to cancer. Twelve years later, her beloved sister, Joan, also died from the same disease.

Annie’s doctors told her it was “just bad luck”. She didn’t believe them. Annie became convinced that there had to be a genetic link for certain types of cancer. This belief also meant that she was convinced that she, too, would get cancer.

She did. In 1980, she developed breast cancer, had a mastectomy and survived. Her marriage didn’t.

Annie went on to survive two more cancers. Her life story was the inspiration for the 2013 film Decoding Annie Parker, and she is now an advocate for cancer care and genetic testing.

In 1988, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. She had a hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, followed by chemotherapy. She survived.


The doctors still wouldn’t confirm that cancer could be hereditary and that there could be a genetic link for certain types of cancer.

Meanwhile, Dr Mary-Claire King, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, was researching the genetic roots of the disease, and discovered the gene that is responsible for many breast and ovarian cancers: BRCA1. Her discovery was revolutionary, and we now know that as many as 5 to 10% of all breast cancers may be hereditary.

In 1994, Annie Parker became one of the first women in Canada to be tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation. Her results were positive for the deadly gene.

Annie developed cancer again in 2006 and underwent another operation, followed by more chemotherapy. She survived.

Annie’s story, and that of Dr Mary-Claire King, inspired Hollywood film-maker Steve Bernstein to write and direct Decoding Annie Parker, a multi-award-winning film starring Samantha Morton, Helen Hunt and Aaron Paul.

Annie is writing her inspirational autobiography, to be published in 2014. “I knew there was a reason I survived, and I hope my story will be a beacon of hope for cancer victims and their families around the world.”

Join us at the 2017 Pink Promise Conference & Luncheon to hear more of Annie’s story and to celebrate with the breast cancer community: 03.25 at the OP Convention Center.