• This Researcher is Investigating How Obesity and Metabolism Impacts Breast Cancer Recurrence

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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 metabolism?

    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 long-term survival.

    Dr. Wellberg’s research is made possible by the generosity of people like you. Help us continue funding her research!

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