Breast cancer and the black swan

Michael Retsky* (Corresponding Author), Romano Demicheli, William Hrushesky, Ted James, Rick Rogers, Michael Baum, Jayant S Vaidya, Osaro Erhabor, Patrice Forget

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Most current research in cancer is attempting to find ways of preventing patients from dying after metastatic relapse. Driven by data and analysis, this project is an approach to solve the problem upstream, i.e., to prevent relapse. This project started with the unexpected observation of bimodal relapse patterns in breast and a number of other cancers. This was not explainable with the current cancer paradigm that has guided cancer therapy and early detection for many years. After much analysis using computer simulation and input from a number of medical specialties, we eventually came to the conclusion that the surgery to remove the primary tumour produced systemic inflammation for a week after surgery. This systemic inflammation apparently caused exits of cancer cells and micrometastases from dormant states and resulted in relapses in the first 3 years post-surgery. It was determined in a retrospective study that the common inexpensive perioperative non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) ketorolac could curtail the early relapse events after breast cancer surgery. A second retrospective study strongly confirmed this but an apparently underpowered prospective study showed no advantage. We are analysing these data and are now proposing to test the perioperative NSAID at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) patients, the category that could respond best to the perioperative NSAID. If this works as well as we expect, we would then transfer this technology to low- and/or middle-incomes countries (LMICs), starting with Nigeria where early onset type of TNBC is common. There is an unmet need in LMICs, especially in countries like Nigeria (190 million population), for a means to prevent surgery induced relapse that we are attempting to resolve. This work aims, thus, to describe eventual mechanisms, and ways to test a solution addressing an unmet need. But first, we consider the context, including within an historical perspective, important to explain how and why a Kuhnian paradigm shift may be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1050
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2020

Bibliographical note

Publication costs for this article were supported by ecancer (UK Charity number 1176307).


  • breast cancer
  • bimodal relapse hazard
  • computer simulation
  • early relapse
  • surgery induced systemic inflammation
  • perioperative NSAID ketorolac
  • mechanisms
  • unmet need in Nigeria
  • proposed solution
  • Mechanisms
  • Computer simulation
  • Perioperative NSAID ketorolac
  • Breast cancer
  • Proposed solution
  • Early relapse
  • Bimodal relapse hazard
  • Unmet need in Nigeria
  • Surgery induced systemic inflammation


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