Breast cancer research brings new hope for care


In this article:

  • Breast cancer care has become highly individualized.

  • Hear from a patient who has a new lease on life.

  • Providence physician Alison Conlin, M.D., offers perspective on recent research advances.

Advances in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are leading to better outcomes. And for the nearly 281,550 women who will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2021, that’s a welcome reassurance. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re shining a light on how the clinical trials at Providence can offer hope to women everywhere.

“Research and clinical trials are constantly seeking out the next best thing in breast cancer care,” explains Alison K. Conlin, M.D., MPH, medical oncologist at Providence. “It has given us new ideas and treatment options, and it has helped us improve the individualized treatment women receive.”

Providence Cancer Institute plays an active role in bringing promising clinical trials to patients. In fact, we were one of the first sites internationally to open a clinical trial of the immunotherapy drug Atezolizumab, combined with a common chemotherapy for women with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. After rigorous study, the drug was found to help women with stage 4, triple-negative breast cancer live longer and improve their quality of life.


But it’s not just the availability of these studies at Providence that leads to better understanding and treatment of breast cancer. It’s also the women and men willing to participate in clinical trials and research. One of those women is Eva Joseph, a participant in the Atezolizumab study. In 2012, Eva learned her breast cancer had spread to her lungs and bones. Four years after participating in the Atezolizumab study, she says she is “basically healthy.” The survival rate for her diagnosis is typically just two years. 

“This, to me, is amazing,” Eva says. “It’s a blessing that I am able to receive treatment when so many others before me couldn’t. It just wasn’t there for them.”

“Eva has single-handedly been able to change the lives of so many women after her,”  says Dr.  Conlin. “That’s the power of a clinical trial.”

Better understanding, better treatment

It was research that also led to understanding the different subtypes of breast cancer. Providers, patients and their loved ones know that not all breast cancers are the same. Scientists were able to identify the three main subtypes, which include: 

  • Hormone receptor (HR) positive
  • Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) positive
  • Triple-negative breast cancer

It’s the ever-expanding field of knowledge on these different types of cancers and how they respond to treatments that are leading to better outcomes for many women. 

Care has become so incredibly individualized. It’s science that has helped make things better and improve what we know and can offer women.

“Care has become so incredibly individualized,” explains Dr. Conlin. “We know who may benefit the most from chemo, who may benefit most from surgery. That understanding comes from clinical trials. It’s science that has helped make things better and improve what we know and can offer women.”

Dr. Conlin and colleagues are also investigating therapies that help improve survival for patients with HER2+ breast cancer. One study is researching if a new combination of therapies can increase survival for women with HER2+ breast cancer that has metastasized or cannot be removed completely with surgery. 

Another study, also researching therapy options for HER2+ breast cancer, is evaluating the efficacy and safety of immunotherapy for certain patients.   

Finding hope in research

Dr. Conlin is quick to remind patients that a clinical trial is not a last resort. 

“There are so many different types of research, from whether exercise during chemotherapy can help reduce fatigue to how well cancer survivors sleep,” she says. 

“Your provider should be able to guide you to research that’s right for you and discuss the pros and cons of participating in the study,” she finishes.

Learn more about all the cancer research taking place at Providence Cancer Institute.


Find a doctor

Want to be sure you are current on all cancer screenings? Use our provider directory to find  and talk with a doctor to learn which screenings are right for you. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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Related resources

Breast cancer immunotherapy breakthrough

Providence clinical trials lead to approval of new treatment for aggressive breast cancer

Providence cancer researchers highlighted at ASCO20: Virtual

Don’t delay life-saving cancer screenings

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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