Division News

Breast Cancer Care: What We Know Today

November 4, 2021 by Tammy Higgins

Members of the University of Vermont Cancer Center discuss some of the major improvements in breast cancer care over the past decade:


Imaging modalities, like MRI, 3D Imaging, and ultrasound, allow physicians to capture much clearer images of women’s breast tissue, particularly in “dense” breasts, which refers to the amount of fibrous or glandular tissue vs. fatty tissue in a woman’s breast. About half of women over age 40 have dense breasts, which puts them at increased risk for breast cancer. “These types of technologies help us find things earlier and at a more treatable stage,” says Professor of Medicine and Familial Cancer Program Director Marie Wood, M.D.


Between 2009 and 2018, more than 10 drugs were approved for breast cancer treatment and prevention. “These newer therapies are…specific to the individual’s type of cancer based on the genetic mutations and proteins that are expressed and tend to have less toxicity than traditional chemotherapy,” says UVM Cancer Center Director Randall Holcombe, M.D., M.B.A.

New Treatments

When a patient has cancer, their immune system is suppressed, but by removing blocks in the immune system, patients may be better equipped to fight cancer cells with their own immunity. “We have just scratched the surface on understanding how immunotherapy may be beneficial for patients with triple negative breast cancer,” says Dr. Holcombe.

“For patients with hormone receptor positive breast cancer, we’re also seeing exciting improvements with a number of targeted therapies,” says Peter Kaufman, M.D., professor of medicine and UVM Medical Center oncologist, who adds that the UVM Cancer Center has several clinical trials evaluating both targeted therapies and hormonal medications.

Read more on the UVM Health Network’s “Staying Healthy” blog.

Q & A with Drs. Holcombe & Wood