Impatient Science: Your Immune SystemImpatient Science is a four-part blog series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each post is based on videos Rip Media Group made in collaboration with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, a charity dedicated to finding new ways of treating and eventually ending breast cancer. This post, the third in the series, goes over some of the biology involved in breast cancer and its treatment. L, whom we met in the last two posts, received her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis recently. Ever since, she’s been thinking a lot about cancer. “Cancer is a mutation,” L says sensibly. “And mutations must happen all the time. But not every mutation is cancerous. And our immune system is really ingenious and can recognize abnormal cells as unhealthy.” “These videos give me a lot of hope,” L says. L has seemed pensive throughout this conversation, but here, she smiles. “I won’t give up on regular exams and doctor visits, but it’s good to know my body has ways to keep me safe.”
Your Body’s Immune SystemAs the Impatient Science explainer video series shows, cancer cells are infiltration experts. Unlike bacteria or viruses, they’re our own cells gone rogue, so they can hide in plain sight. This makes it hard for your body to find the unusual cells — but it’s not impossible, thanks to the hard work your immune system does. Your immune system is composed of two main parts. The innate immune system operates across your body, and it protects against bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. When your innate immune system encounters cancer cells or other serious threats, it knows it can’t do the job alone. That’s when it calls in the adaptive immune system.
The Adaptive Immune SystemThese videos give us a clear picture of the adaptive immune system. It is made up of several extremely specialized types of cells and serves as a SWAT team for your body. Lymphocytes stand by in your lymph nodes and wait for threats like cancer cells. When they receive the right signal, they move into action. One of the most interesting features of the adaptive immune system is how it learns from threats. It develops specific responses that are tailor-made for individual threats, and that’s how our body develops immunities to diseases. Many of the videos in the Impatience Science series express the potential of one of the most exciting areas of cancer research: immunology. Researchers theorize that if they can train the immune system to recognize and deal more quickly with cancer, this can slow or even stop the spread of cancer through the body. Watch this video to gain a better understanding of immunology:
Checkpoint Inhibitors and VaccinesNormally, lymphocytes like T-cells don’t attack the body’s own cells. But a drug called a checkpoint inhibitor can cause them to consider the body’s cells to be a threat. As the videos state, normally that’s not a good thing, but carefully training the body’s immune response to identify and destroy cancer cells may be a vital way to block cancer’s advance. What’s more, some viruses cause cancer, like HPV and hepatitis C. Researchers have worked on creating vaccines to train the immune system to destroy these viruses. These have gone a long way toward preventing various cancers. Finally, the video series points out one more area of promise: in some areas of cancer research, scientists are creating vaccines that can train the immune system to target the body’s own tumor cells. It remains to be seen how that area of research pans out, but researchers agree that it holds immense promise; in fact, clinical trials are already underway. This concludes Part 3. Part 4 will deal with breast cancer research and researchers’ hopes for future treatment. If you’re interested in making a donation to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, please visit https://www.drsusanloveresearch.org/. Whatever your story, we’re here to help. Rip Media Group … your story starts here!
Impatient Science: First StepsImpatient Science is a four-part blog series that describes the breast cancer journey, from diagnosis through treatment. Each post expands upon the ideas in the Impatient Science explainer video series, which Rip Media Group made in collaboration with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Part 1 dealt with reacting to a diagnosis. This part, Part 2, deals with metastatic cancers. When we last visited L, in Part 1, she’d just received her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. The doctor told her the breast cancer was metastatic and had spread to her mother’s liver and bones. “I didn’t really know what that meant,” L says, “and it was very frightening at first. But I’m happy to say that with hormone therapy and other treatments, they’ve brought her symptoms under control and slowed the cancer’s spread.”
What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?The videos explain that the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can occur even when the cancer seems to be in remission. Metastasis, or distant recurrence, is sometimes called “stage 4” cancer. It happens when cancerous cells escape their environment and travel to other organs. These cells may travel a long way and remain dormant for a long time, despite systemic treatments such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy, which are designed to slow or stop cancer’s spread. As Dr. Susan Love reminds you in the video, it’s important to remember that you didn’t do anything to cause your cancer to spread. A wide range of complex variables — environmental, genetic and behavioral — affect cancers development and spread. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for metastatic cancer, but it’s not a death sentence — as these videos’ tone makes clear! With modern treatments, patients have long, healthy lives. When cancer is metastatic, the goal isn’t to cure the cancer, but rather to manage it. Before reading the next section on treatment, take a moment to watch the video which gives a concise overview.
Treating Metastatic CancerTreatment for metastatic cancer typically involves a two-pronged approach: controlling the symptoms of the cancer and controlling the cancer cells for as long as possible, so they don’t spread further. The videos inform us that the exact treatment you receive will depend on your type of cancer and where it has spread. These may change over time, which means your doctor may order more biopsies and tests. Your doctors will watch you closely and adapt your treatment to match your condition. Treatments for metastatic cancers include hormone therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drugs that work against particular types of tumors. Each therapy targets different parts of tumors and aspects of cancer, so your doctor may very well try several types of treatment simultaneously. While this treatment may seem overwhelming, your doctors are using all the tools available to help you feel as well as they can. These videos go over several tools to manage cancer, including:
- Undergoing surgery and radiation, which are typically used to remove or shrink the tumor. They may also have a positive effect on any pain you experience.
- Receiving immunotherapy, which is in clinical trials. It changes how your white blood cells behave so they attack tumor cells. If your current treatment options aren’t working, and you qualify for a clinical trial, your doctors may recommend this or another therapy that’s still being tested.
- Working with a palliative care specialist, who helps you manage your pain and any negative side-effects caused by treatment.
Impatient Science: Receiving the DiagnosisOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we want to share our passion, enthusiasm, and support of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. The Foundation is a charity that researches the best methods of preventing, detecting, treating and creating a world without breast cancer. We have had the honor of collaborating with Dr. Susan Love to create a series of explainer videos called Impatient Science to educate and guide newly diagnosed patients and their families and friends. Throughout this month, we will be posting a series of blogs highlighting the ideas presented in the explainer video series. This is the first part of the four part series. “We knew going in that my mother was sick,” says L, the daughter of a breast cancer patient. “We encouraged her to go to the doctor, but she was stubborn, and it wasn’t like we could force her.” “It wasn’t until she had a completely unrelated problem that she finally got her breast looked at. I remember the moment I received her diagnosis over the phone. Even though we’d suspected cancer, I was in shock. I had trouble continuing the conversation, and I kept asking the doctor for the same details, over and over.”
The Moments After DiagnosisL’s story isn’t unusual. Many patients and family members are in shock after receiving a cancer diagnosis. As these educational explainer videos suggest, in those first moments, it’s important to stay calm. Breast cancer is serious, but the diagnosis itself isn’t an emergency. Nothing has changed, and your situation is not any more urgent after you received the call than it was before. That is why the first video is this series addresses this very issue. Many women have the first impulse to blame themselves for the diagnosis: the food they eat, for instance, or a history of drinking or smoking. This is an understandable reaction — it’s an attempt to regain control over the situation, at any cost — but it’s not reasonable. Many factors contribute to cancer, including environmental factors that you have little to no control over. There’s no one factor that “gave you” cancer, and blaming yourself doesn’t change anything. In these videos, Dr. Love sought out to make one thing very clear – “this is not your fault.” Take this moment to view the very first video in this series. Breast Cancer Research – #101 – Animation from Rip Media Group on Vimeo.
Types of Breast CancerThe educational video series goes on to explain the several kinds of cancer. Some are life-threatening, and some aren’t. Each is different and gets treated differently, so communicating with your doctor and understanding your condition is very important. These videos are intended to simplify a heavy topic and help the viewer gain a better understanding of the diagnosis, types, and treatments for breast cancer. As the videos state, many carcinomas are comparatively limited. They may appear only in the breast’s milk ducts or in the lobules that produce milk. While these are abnormal cells, they aren’t actually cancer and aren’t life-threatening. If these abnormalities begin to appear in the tissue surrounding the ducts or lobules, this is called invasive breast cancer. If these abnormalities leave the breast and appear in other organs, doctors call this stage 4 breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer. Again, all of these different conditions have different treatment options and different prognoses, so it’s important to communicate with your doctor and do your best to understand your diagnosis. The goal of these videos is to increase awareness and understanding and give you a language to engage in this new conversation. A breast cancer diagnosis is the opening of a new chapter in your life. That can be scary, but you’re not alone. You have the support of your friends, family, doctors, and The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. With these people on your team, you’ll make it through. This concludes part 1 of this four-part series. Part 2 will examine metastatic breast cancer. If you’re interested in learning more about breast cancer, or you want to make a donation to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, visit https://www.drsusanloveresearch.org Whatever your story, we’re here to help. Rip Media Group … your story starts here!
Series 5 – Cancer Research and Clinical Trials #505
Series 5 – Cancer Research and Clinical Trials #504
Series 5 – Cancer Research and Clinical Trials #503
Series 5 – Cancer Research and Clinical Trials #502
Series 5 – Cancer Research and Clinical Trials #501
Series 4 – Types of Breast Cancer #405
Series 4 – Types of Breast Cancer #404
Series 4 – Types of Breast Cancer #403
Series 4 – Types of Breast Cancer #402
Series 4 – Types of Breast Cancer #401
Series 3 – Immunology and Cancer #302
Series 3 – Immunology and Cancer #301
Series 2 – Understanding Metastatic Disease #205
Series 2 – Understanding Metastatic Disease #204
Series 2 – Understanding Metastatic Disease #203