Personal Stories, Headlines & Helpful Information, Research, Dollars Making A Difference
By: Amanda Oberstein
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Dr. Elizabeth Wellberg has a deep personal connection to
breast cancer. When she was just three years old, her mother was diagnosed with
the disease. Thankfully, her mother had a team of wonderful doctors around her
and she responded very well to treatment. More than 30 years later, Dr.
Wellberg’s mother continues to survive and thrive. Yet like most breast cancer survivors, the
fear of her breast cancer coming back, also known as a “recurrence,” is never
far off. Dr. Wellberg is committed to understanding what causes breast cancers to
recur and discovering how it can be stopped.
Dr. Wellberg and her mom
Thanks to funding from Susan G. Komen, Dr. Wellberg is
studying how obesity negatively impacts treatment and leads to poorer outcomes
for postmenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer. Earlier this year, she published initial data
from her research that shed light on this connection. ER+ tumors – which make up about 80% of all
breast cancers – are dependent on the estrogen receptor and are usually treated
with endocrine, or anti-estrogen, therapies. Her study showed that obesity
promotes the way ER+ tumors progress and become resistant to endocrine therapy,
leading to breast cancer recurrence.
Dr. Wellberg’s research has taught her the importance of focusing
on the whole patient rather than just the tumor and she keeps the patient
perspective at the forefront when designing her research projects. Her patient
advocate mentor, Sabrina Wright-Hobart, inspired the idea that was most
recently funded by Komen. During one of their meetings, Sabrina expressed
frustration with changes in her metabolism that occurred after she went through
breast cancer treatment. It is widely known that obesity and metabolic disease increase
breast cancer risk and make recurrence more likely. Dr. Wellberg began to
wonder if changes in a person’s metabolism, potentially caused by their breast
cancer treatment, impact recurrence. Is it possible to prevent breast cancer
recurrence in women by understanding how the treatments impact their whole-body
Today, Dr. Wellberg is studying the relationship between
body weight, metabolism and how patients respond to breast cancer treatment.
She is investigating how endocrine therapy can lead to weight gain, obesity and
diabetes. These treatment complications are not only harmful side-effects of
endocrine therapy, but they might ultimately cause treatment resistance and increase
the risk of cancer recurrence. Understanding how endocrine therapy causes
metabolic changes might help minimize recurrence of ER+ tumors and improve
Dr. Wellberg’s research is made possible by the generosity
of people like you. Help us continue funding her research!
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