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Breast Cancer Advances, Then and Now: Finding Hope in the Past and the Future

Real Talk

March 14, 2024

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Illustration by Brittany England

Illustration by Brittany England

by Monica Haro


Medically Reviewed by:

Faith Selchick, DNP, AOCNP


by Monica Haro


Medically Reviewed by:

Faith Selchick, DNP, AOCNP


While a cure can’t come fast enough, we’ve come a long way in breast cancer advances. With plenty of innovations ahead, there’s promise in where we’re going.

Somewhere along the way in the bewildering early months of my breast cancer diagnosis, I came across the Ernst Juger quote, “Hope brings us further than fear.”

I pondered it over and over in my darkest, most terrifying moments.

I leaned into that idea as much as I could to drown out the scary thoughts about cancer: Could I die? How terrible will treatment be?

As the years after surgery and no evidence of disease add up, I find myself in a complicated space.

First, there’s gratitude for no metastatic recurrence. Then there’s fear of metastatic recurrence. There’s bewilderment watching friends in the breast cancer community die from stage IV metastatic disease, along with wonderment for those living with metastatic disease for many years now.

There is hope to be found, and we can flip the script in our heads on cancer — even when it’s baby steps toward research and new treatments.

Read on to learn about the newest advances in breast cancer and the latest in research for a cure.

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A breast cancer research timeline

We aren’t there yet with a cure, but new things keep emerging: to improve quality of life, delay or prevent recurrence, or slow a metastatic progression.

But when I take a retrospective look at my own cancer treatment, I realize there were treatments available to me that were not available to the ones who came before me. I’ve seen plenty of new treatments emerge since my tenure in cancerland over the past 9 years.

Below, I’ve mapped out some of the treatments I or my friends have used and where they fell in my life’s timeline.

Illustration by Brittany England


Cyclophosphamide is ​​first approved for use in breast cancer, and the Barbie doll is launched, 13 years before I would be born.


Doxorubicin (you know, the one nicknamed “red devil”) is FDA-approved to treat breast cancer. I am 2 years old, and President Nixon is impeached this year.


Tamoxifen is FDA-approved for advanced cases of breast cancer. I remember my dad taking me to see the first Star Wars movie this year.


The aromatase inhibitor (AI hormone therapy) class of drugs are now being used for breast cancer treatment. During this time, the Berlin Wall falls, Reagan is elected president, and the Challenger space shuttle explodes.


The first report of DIEP flap surgery is published.


Taxol is FDA-approved to treat breast cancer. The road to Taxol started back in 1978 with research showing efficacy against mouse tumors, and Taxol was used in clinical trials from 1984–1985. I am 22 and Green Day’s “Dookie” is released. I’m 20 years away from my own diagnosis, coming at age 42.


Herceptin is approved to treat HER2+ metastatic breast cancer (and later, in 2006, to treat HER2+ early breast cancer). President Bill Clinton is impeached, and Disney releases “Mulan.”


Abraxane is approved for breast cancer treatment the same year Hurricane Katrina hits.


Perjeta is approved to treat HER2+ breast cancer, just 2 years before I received my own diagnosis. Though I was not HER2+, many people in my “cancer cohort” who were diagnosed around the same time as me are.


Ibrance is approved to treat metastatic breast cancer. I was in the thick of chemo this year, taking the aforementioned “red devil” and other chemo treatments. I remember hearing a woman in the chemo lounge telling me about a then-new drug being approved.

I distinctly remember feeling a lot of hope to learn a new thing had happened in breast cancer treatment.


Verzenio is approved. This is the year I get my DIEP flap breast reconstruction.


FDA approves pembrolizumab for high risk, early-stage, triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) in combination with chemotherapy. I am now 7 years into my survivorship, and 3 years into my role as a community guide with a new breast cancer community support app, Bezzy Breast Cancer (formerly BC Healthline).


FDA approves trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu) for the treatment of HER2-low breast cancers that can’t be removed surgically, or that have spread elsewhere in the body.


FDA approves capivasertib (Truqap, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals) with fulvestrant for adult patients with hormone receptor (HR)-positive, HER2- locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

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Getting some perspective

Of course, there’s more that could be on this timeline. I believe we have to look at the past, present, and future all at once to see the progress and understand there will be more advances.

It doesn’t stop here. Things change.

Our breast cancer treatment today certainly doesn’t look like our grandparent’s treatment or even our parent’s treatment. Things have moved forward, and looking at it this way gives me hope. I hope it gives you hope too.

Behind all these approvals were years of research and clinical trials. There is progress, but is it fast enough? Absolutely not. However, I keep looking at what advancements have looked like in the course of my life. I play out the scenario of what drugs I would likely start with if I were to have a metastatic recurrence tomorrow.

Stanford Medicine has compiled an analysis showing breast cancer deaths have dropped 58% between 1975 and 2019 due to screening mammography and treatment improvements. Almost one-third of the decrease is because of advances in treating stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

That’s an overall better-than-half improvement during my life.

Breast cancer innovations in the works

Here are some breast cancer innovations we can look forward to in the future:

  • Scientists have discovered “the inner workings of an immune response pathway that could aid in cancer prevention and treatment.” Researchers are starting clinical trials to examine the combination of radiation and immunotherapy as a means of treating certain types of breast cancer.
  • There have been breakthroughs in immunotherapy (CAR) T cell therapy clinical trials to treat HER2-positive breast cancer that has spread to the brain.
  • There have been fewer lymph node removal surgeries for some small breast cancers, thus reducing the chances of developing lymphedema.
  • Researchers are developing strategies to prevent peripheral neuropathy from chemotherapy treatment.
  • Research has been funded to explore treating triple-negative breast cancer with a blood pressure drug.
  • Advances have been made in breast reconstruction with robotic-assisted mastectomies to help preserve natural breasts and nipple sensation.

Through witnessing my friends living with Stage IV disease, I’ve seen that treatment options are everything to extend their time with us.

Knowing there are more treatment options around the corner is everything. That hope tamps down fear.

Finding hope in clinical trials

Clinical trials, to me, are hope in action. Whenever I hear of somebody in the breast cancer world learning about or participating in a clinical trial, I feel a sense of “more cogs in the wheel” to get treatment improvements. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, there are numerous clinical trials at UCSF Hospital. This list of trials is a list of hope.

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Little steps toward a cure

When people tell me they want to donate to breast cancer somehow, I always direct them to Metavivor and BCRF. These are two organizations focused on breast cancer research funding.

I believe research will get us there, to the cure, eventually.

In the meantime, you can stay connected with the breast cancer community for support with the Bezzy app. There, you’ll find hope and people who get what it’s like to live life after a cancer diagnosis.

Check in for a live chat sometime. You can be vulnerable there. And we also like to laugh!

Medically reviewed on March 14, 2024

22 Sources

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About the author

Monica Haro

Monica was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is raising her son. She loves staying connected to the breast cancer community through her work as the community guide for Bezzy BC, and as production assistant with Wildfire Magazine. After her cancer diagnosis, she has a passion for volunteering, and serves on the board of directors with her local support group, Bay Area Young Survivors. Monica loves creative expression through writing and art. She has shown her breast cancer advocacy exhibit “Reconstructed: A Breast Cancer Documentation Project” with El Comalito Collective in Vallejo, California several times over the years. You can connect with her on Instagram.

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