Breast Cancer

Over 3.8 million people (mostly women) in America are currently diagnosed with breast cancer, and tragically, it is expected to claim the lives of over 43,000 of them this year.

Many promising therapies are either available or on the horizon to treat breast cancer, and many breast cancer patients are sharing their experiences of surviving and thriving. What are the most notable updates in this arena?

Search Trends

The Trends Section provides an overview of some of the most recent and relevant topics that relate to particular health conditions.

It features a selection of the topics that have the fastest growing Google search interest across the last three months, and reflects the inquiries of patients, healthcare providers, scientists, and others who are invested in the topic.

This is valuable to understand people’s interests and concerns at the present moment, and often include the U.S. states that have the highest interest in a topic. 

Quilt.AI brings these trends to life through an analysis that incorporates both cultural and scientific lenses.

What top selling drugs for Breast Cancer are trending on search?

What's trending on search for Breast Cancer?

Search interest for Dostarlimab grew by 3334% over the last 3 months, from April 2022 to June 2022.

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1. Dostarlimab 

Searches for the drug dorstarlimbab (brand name: Jemperli) have been up over the past three months, with the most searches coming from Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota and Pennsylvania. There was a significant spike around July 7; this coincides with a news release about an experimental drug trial involving dorstarlimbab that showed very promising results. The trial, partially funded by the drug’s maker GSK, found that cancer went into remission in every single rectal cancer patient who received this immunotherapy treatment for six months.

The drug has FDA approval to treat one form of breast cancer (mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) advanced-stage breast cancer that has grown during or after treatment if no other treatment options are available). This explains why many people searching for breast cancer are also searching for this drug.

2. Can itching be a symptom of breast cancer

Many symptoms of breast cancer are ambiguous and shared with less serious conditions. Over the past three months – and particularly in June – there was a surge in searches clarifying whether itching could be a sign of breast cancer. This surge is likely driven by a couple of articles that appeared over this period, on possible reasons for nipple itchiness.

In most cases, itching breasts are not an indicator of cancer or any other life-threatening condition, but rather dry skin or mastitis. However, there are two uncommon forms of breast cancer–inflammatory breast cancer and Paget’s disease–that are associated with itchy breast tissue.

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Search interest for Can itching be a sign of breast cancer grew by 75% over the last 3 months, from April 2022 to June 2022.

Search interest for Her2-negative breast cancer grew by 80% over the last 3 months, from April 2022 to June 2022.

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3. Her2-negative breast cancer

There has been a surge of interest in HER2-negative breast cancer across the past three months, particularly through May and June. ‘HER2’ is an abbreviation for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, and can refer to the HER2 gene or to the protein of the same name that the gene produces. HER2-negative breast cancer occurs when the cancerous cells do not contain high enough levels of the HER2 protein to be considered HER2-positive. Approximately 4 out of 5 breast cancer cases are classified as HER2-negative. 

It is thought that over 60% of these HER2-negative breast cancers actually have some HER2 proteins on their cell surfaces, and doctors are now calling these cancers ‘HER2-low.’ These cancers effectively occupy a grey zone between the negative and positive types, and the new classification can determine treatment options.

Receiving an HER2-negative diagnosis can leave one fraught with uncertainty because, despite the variety of treatment options that exist, the prognosis can vary. Around the time that this search was surging, scientific reports were released about a drug named Enhertu that has shown great promise in treating HER2-negative breast cancer (it is discussed later in this report). 

4. Breast cancer in men symptoms

Men make up a small percentage (fewer than 1%) of breast cancer cases, but tend to be diagnosed when the cancer is already at a more advanced stage and is harder to treat. This is because of the common misconception that only women can get breast cancer, and the fact that men don’t receive routine mammograms. 

Approximately 2,710 men in America are expected to be diagnosed with the disease this year, and an estimated 530 will have their lives claimed by it. Some recent news articles have featured cases of men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, so it is likely that this search indicates an increase in public interest on the topic.

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Search interest for Male breast cancer symptoms grew by 20% over the last 3 months, from April 2022 to June 2022.

Search interest for Enhertu grew by 214% over the last 3 months, from April 2022 to June 2022.

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5. Enhertu

Searches for the oncology drug Enhertu have been sharply increasing across the past three months, with the most searches coming from the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland. The searches increased from May 5, and they stem from AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s announcement that that their drug was approved in the U.S. for patients with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer who have previously received an anti-HER2-based regimen. 

The largest spike was seen on June 5, and is connected to research presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting and also published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The research revealed that, compared with chemotherapy that doctors typically choose for treatment, Enhertu improved both progression-free survival (how long a person lives without their cancer growing) by 50% and reduced the risk of death (regardless of cancer growth) by 36% in patients diagnosed with metastatic HER2-low breast cancer that received previous treatment.

Popular news articles were quick to report on these extraordinary findings, with some suggesting that this game-changing clinical trial success could represent a new era of breast cancer treatment that offers targeted therapy for HER2-low patients.

Breast Cancer in Culture

The Culture Section highlights emerging cultural trends, new products, and notable dialogue about a variety of health conditions. The purpose of this section is to zoom in on what has been happening within the cultural and professional landscape of a particular health condition–stories that are often missed by quantitative searches.

By featuring influential social media items, patient discourse, professional dialogue, product innovations, and impactful news items, this section illuminates the lived experiences of many patients, while also providing a snapshot of the developments happening around them. 

Here, Quilt.AI offers a detailed and nuanced perspective of what is new and what is meaningful.

1.  Reclaiming the body: Mastectomy tattoos

Many women who have undergone mastectomies have chosen to reclaim the post-surgery area–and their sense of self, as well–by getting elaborate, meaningful tattoos. Losing one or both breasts to cancer can bring on complex emotions for some, as the resulting area can be associated with both triumph (over the disease) and loss (of one’s ideal body or sense of femininity). Coming to terms with one’s post-mastectomy body can be challenging or even traumatic as it is common for these women to experience feelings of detachment from their bodies that now feel foreign or strange to them. These feelings can be amplified by the perpetual fear about their bodies as they fear cancer recurrence. 

Acquiring this type of tattoo can be a meaningful part of healing and also connect one to a community of women who have opted to do the same thing. Social media has facilitated the display of mastectomy tattoos, with TikTok and Instagram having the majority of posts and dialogue.

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2. Passed away: Marnie Schulenburg 

Searches for American actress Marnie Schulenburg surged in the days following her death on May 17. Best known for her role on the soap opera As the World Turns, as well as her roles on One Life to Live and Blue Bloods, Schulenburg’s passing at only 37 years of age came as a shock to many. Searches for “Marnie Schulenburg breast cancer” were highest in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Colorado and New Hampshire.

Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2020, she used social media to draw attention to her specific condition (which can be mistaken for mastitis), and to inspire others battling breast cancer.

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3. Celebrity Diagnoses: Clea Shearer and Terra Jolé

Two stars of popular U.S. shows have recently gone public with their breast cancer diagnoses, and both of their names have been surging according to Google Trends. 

Netflix star Clea Shearer (from the show The Home Edit) shared on Instagram that she has started chemotherapy to treat her breast cancer. Her over 235K followers were made aware of her diagnosis, as well as the variety of upsets (to do with sleep disturbances, anxiety, frustration, sadness) that came with embarking on a course of chemotherapy.

Little Women: LA star and Dancing With the Stars alum Terra Jolé went public with her breast cancer diagnosis on April 29, and revealed that she planned to have a double mastectomy to address it. Upon making the announcement, many of her friends and fans that make up her over 918K Instagram followers sent messages of support and encouragement to the star.

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4. Beauty Influencer: Dionne Phillips

Before her breast cancer diagnosis, Dionne Phillips was well known for her work as a celebrity lash expert and beauty influencer. Since her diagnosis earlier this year, she has been using her platform of 34.6K Instagram followers to share her treatment journey and raise general awareness about breast cancer to hopefully save other women. Receiving this diagnosis – specifically that the cancer has likely been present for a decade – came as a surprise to her because she had undergone mammograms on a regular basis for many years and yet her cancer was not detected. Her diagnosis was particularly terrifying as this type of breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma) commonly spreads into the lymph nodes, making treatment more challenging. 

Dionne bravely posts about her chemotherapy sessions, has shared her rationale about undergoing a double mastectomy, and often focuses her discussion to helping Black women, a group she acknowledges can face disproportionate barriers in accessing screening and care in the U.S.

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5. Mastectomy-Oriented Fashion

Women must often rethink their clothing choices after they have had mastectomies since the surgery can result in the loss of one or both breasts, the reduction of one or both breasts, the loss of one’s nipples, or major changes to the entire area (e.g., loss of tissue in the armpit area or having to adjust to breast implants). Not being able to wear items from one’s wardrobe or encountering challenges when shopping for new clothing can be frustrating, and has prompted some women to share tips and experiences online. Using the hashtags #foobs (which refers to ‘fake boobs after mastectomy’), #foobfashion, #flattie, #flattiefashion, and #flatandfabulous (among others) on TikTok and Instagram, these women are giving practical advice, extending solidarity to others, and approaching a lot of their struggles with humour as they reinterpret fashion to suit their needs and tastes.