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New Upstate Medical research could help detect spread of breast cancer

A sign outside stories high building reads "Upstate Univesity Hospital and Cancer Cente" in big white letters.
File photo
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WAER News
The outside entrance of SUNY Upstate Univesity Hospital and Cancer Center located at 750 E Adams St, Syracuse, NY.

Fewer people have been screened for breast cancer since COVID began. This could put hospitals like Upstate years behind in fighting cancer, said Upstate Medical's Dr. Leszek Kotula.

"Women will be diagnosed later with more invasive changes," Kotula said. "And this will impact, of course, their survival long term."

October marks National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual information effort to encourage screenings. The most recent numbers shows that breast cancer detection rates in New York are back on the rise, but death rates have started to creep up despite trending down over 10 years, data from the New York State Department of Health shows. But research led by Kotula at Upstate Medical has shown promising results in discovering breast cancer and predicting if it will metastasize.

Kotula discovered the ABI1 gene in 1998, which is involved in slowing the growth of prostate cancer. This discovery gave researchers valuable information on breast cancer because they are both hormone-driven cancers, despite the gene working differently in the cancers, Kotula explained.

"There is lots of commonality between in mechanism between the hormone-driven cancers," Kotula said. "I'm very lucky that we are able to connect the information from prostate with to breast, and we're going to feed off each other's information to make better science."

Kotula hopes that in the future, hospitals can take scans, evaluate the genes, and follow up with patients based on this research. This research, though, may take time to transition from the lab into the clinic, he says. While mammograms are an older method of screening, Kotula says they are still very important in catching early changes, and that women should take advantage of Upstate's free screening program.

Kotula champions all of the programs, including the free mammograms, that Upstate is offering to patients. Data from New York State's Health Department shows that breast cancer rates in Syracuse from 2015-2019 were on average lower than the state average.

"Women should sign up, we should be screening for the presence of early changes regularly," Kotula says. "It's actually saving lives every day."

Matt Wrigley comes from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, and is pursuing his Broadcast and Digital Journalism degree at Newhouse. His goal is to be a beat writer for a Philadelphia sports team or a broadcaster for NBC/NBC Sports. This semester at WAER, he's looking forward to gaining confidence with interviews and improving his news writing.
Zach Kopelman is an undergraduate student studying broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School Of Public Communications, expected to graduate in 2025. He comes from Long Hill, New Jersey. As a contributor, he helps produce content for WAER. In his free time, Zach enjoys spending time with friends and family and watching the New York Knicks.