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Dana-Farber's New BRCA Cancer Center Connects More Patients to Clinical Trials

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Key Takeaways

  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has a new center dedicated to helping people with BRCA-related cancers.
  • The center helps patients with genetic testing and cancer treatment, as well as connecting patients to clinical trials.
  • Doctors say the new center can push research in BRCA-related cancers forward.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a world leader in cancer treatment and research, has launched a new center that’s specifically designed to prevent and treat BRCA-related cancers. Known as the Center for BRCA and Related Genes, this Boston, Massachusetts-based center gives patients easy access to clinical trials, with a large focus on overcoming chemotherapy resistance, targeted agents, and DNA repair inhibitors.

“We put together this center because we really thought there were better treatment opportunities for patients with BRCA-related cancers,” Judy Garber, MD, MPH, chief of Dana-Farber’s Cancer Genetics and Prevention division and a co-director of the new center, tells Verywell. “These patients have special sensitivities, and their cancers have a biological signature that makes them sensitive to certain types of drugs.”

The center, introduced to the public on August 12, employs a team of specialists who work together to give patients the newest treatments and services. The overall hope, Garber says, is to connect patients with BRCA-related cancers to the best access possible to the latest care.

What This Means For You

If you have a BRCA-related cancer or a BRCA mutation runs in your family, the new center may be able to help you find access to the latest care and developments in your type of cancer.

What Are BRCA-Related Cancers?

BRCA genes are part of the DNA in your cells. This group of genes makes sure that every cell reproduces itself perfectly when it divides to make new cells, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute explains. But BRCA genes can be inherited with an alteration that can cause an increased risk of developing certain cancers over time.

Many cancer tumor cells can also develop mutations in the BRCA genes and other similar genes, even if someone wasn’t born with the genetic mutation.

BRCA mutations that are inherited are mainly found in BRCA1 and BRCA2 repair genes.

While BRCA mutations are often discussed in the context of breast cancer, the mutations also increase a person’s risk of developing ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

If someone has a known BRCA mutation, they’re often encouraged to go through genetic testing, screening, and cancer risk reduction techniques, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says. They also need to make decisions related to reproduction. For women, that may involve considering the removal of their ovaries and fallopian tubes to try to lower their risk of developing a future cancer.

What Does the New Center Do?

The center’s specialists work to treat patients with the latest therapies known to target BRCA-related cancers, like classes of drugs called PARP inhibitors, or treatments incorporating immunotherapy. They are also focusing on early detection of these types of cancers.

People don’t need to be a previous Dana-Farber patient to be treated at the center—it’s accepting new patients as well.

New patients are evaluated by one of the center’s physicians and then receive recommendations for therapy, as well as clinical trial recommendations, if they meet the criteria. Samples and data collected from the patients will be used for further research, with the patients’ permission.

The center also offers improved access to testing for people with an inherited risk of BRCA-related cancers based on family history.

Why Dedicated BRCA Research Matters

BRCA-related cancers in younger populations have been gradually increasing, Sagar Sardesai MD, a breast medical oncologist and researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, tells Verywell. But it's unclear whether there's actually a surge in these types of cancers, or if doctors are able to identify them more frequently than in the past.

"The perceived rise in BRCA cancers is likely associated with increased awareness, improved access and lowered costs associated with genetic testing, and early detection from cancer screening in unaffected carriers," Sardesai says. “We have made significant progress in understanding the biology of BRCA-associated cancers in the last two decades which has led to approval of targeted therapies, but more needs to be done.”

Dana-Farber plans to further that progress.

"In many places, there’s not as much access to new trials and resources for families,” Garber says. “Those things are here and can be made available.”

These BRCA-related clinical trials are vital to finding new treatments, Jane Kakkis, MD, a surgical oncologist and medical director of breast surgery at MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Verywell.

"Having enough people with a certain type of tumor is very important for research," Kakkis says, adding that screening for people who may have a BRCA mutation is also crucial. "If you can identify gene carriers and do risk-reducing measures, you can impact survival."

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Article Sources
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  1. Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Dana-Farber launches new center for the prevention and treatment of BRCA-related cancers. Updated August 12, 2020.

  2. NIH National Cancer Institute. BRCA mutations: Cancer risk and genetic testing. Updated January 30, 2018.

  3. American Cancer Society. Can ovarian cancer be prevented?

  4. Vikas P, Borcherding N, Chennamadhavuni A, Garje R. Therapeutic potential of combining PARP inhibitor and immunotherapy in solid tumors. Front Oncol. 2020;10:570. doi:10.3389/fonc.2020.00570