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Conqueror in Action: Dr. Katherine Reeder-Hayes Takes on Breast Cancer

Jan 19, 2018

When a cutting-edge cancer tool becomes available, minorities such as African Americans and older patients often have less access to it than other populations. This is problematic – especially when those with limited access are those who could benefit the most. As a result, public health researchers try to study how new tools are utilized within communities and identify ways to optimize their use for all populations.

This is exactly what Dr. Katherine Reeder-Hayes is doing thanks to a Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Career Development Award supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. She and her team at The University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are analyzing the use of a new test in breast cancer called gene expression profiling. The test can predict which patients with hormone receptor-positive (HR+) breast cancer may benefit the most from chemotherapy; it also estimates the likelihood of recurrence.

A tool like this is incredibly valuable: it helps doctors determine who should receive chemotherapy and reassure patients who may not need chemotherapy treatment. Unfortunately, not all patients who should receive this test do. Dr. Reeder-Hayes and her team are trying to determine why.

“We don’t know who is getting the test and who is not getting it in the community,” explained Dr. Reeder-Hayes. “We also don’t know whether those decisions are being made based on things about the patient’s cancer that make sense clinically or instead based on financial or other characteristics of the patient.”

Specifically, Dr. Reeder-Hayes and her team are looking for differences in who receives the test by race. This is important because HR+ breast cancer in African American women can be more aggressive than in other races. For these women, gene expression profiling could be a key tool for ensuring they get the treatment they need.

“I’ve always been interested in what happens to the most vulnerable patients in our healthcare system – patients from minority groups, patients who have fewer financial resources or are uninsured,” said Dr. Reeder-Hayes. “I’m really compelled by the differences I see in the cancer experience for those patients as opposed to the patients who have the best experience with their cancer care and who often have the best outcomes.”

Ultimately, Dr. Reeder-Hayes hopes she can prove that applying this test broadly across populations will improve public health outcomes, which will encourage decision makers to use it more often.

 “This research project is entirely supported by my Conquer Cancer grant,” noted Dr. Reeder-Hayes. “Every person who decides to donate helps move forward research like this, which otherwise just wouldn’t get done.”

Dr. Reeder-Hayes’s Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Career Development Award was supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

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