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Actress Shannen Doherty shared via Instagram this month that her breast cancer has spread to her brain. Doherty, 52, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She underwent a mastectomy and received chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In 2017, she announced she was in remission.

Her cancer, however, returned in 2020 as stage 4 and she has continued to post publicly about her cancer journey ever since.

“On January 5th, my scan showed Mets in my brain,” Doherty recently posted on Instagram.



Brain metastases occur in approximately 10%-15% of women with stage 4 triple-negative or HER2 positive breast cancer, according to Dr. Peter Forsyth, chair of the Neuro-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. In some cases, the breast cancer metastasizes directly to the brain; in others, the breast cancer metastasizes to another area of the body — such as the lungs, liver or bones — before it reaches the brain.

While many assume a condition like Doherty’s is brain cancer, it is not. The distinction between brain cancer and brain metastases lies in where the cancer originated. In this case, the cancerous cells started in the breast.

Treatment for this type of breast cancer metastasis varies but typically involves MRI scans and possibly a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, Forsyth said.

While life expectancy for this type of cancer diagnosis is short, there is hope on the horizon, thanks to clinical trials and ongoing research. Moffitt launched a using a groundbreaking breast cancer specific dendritic cell vaccine to treat this subset of patients. The vaccine is administered in the brain and spinal fluid space of the brain that is often difficult to access. 

So far, the trial involves the introduction of the cancer into mice that have been cured by the dendritic cell vaccine.

“They won’t take,” Forsyth said of the cancer cells. “This suggests a secondary benefit of the therapy and indicates a one-and-done type of treatment.”

Forsyth’s lab is investigating the delivery of this immune cell therapy into the fluid space of the brain and spinal cord to treat melanoma with high expression of HER3.

This new trial is a fantastic opportunity to take our work from the lab to the clinic and try to make a difference.
Dr. Peter Forsyth, chair of Moffitt's Neuro-Oncology Program

“This new trial is a fantastic opportunity to take our work from the lab to the clinic and try to make a difference. The opportunity to give hope to these patients is important,” Forsyth said.

This is not the first time Doherty has shared a diagnosis directly via social media. In October 2021, she posted a selfie of herself lying in bed with a shaved head and a nosebleed. She said she hopes her posts help raise awareness and possibly save lives.

“I hope I encourage people to get mammograms, to get regular checkups, to cut thru the fear and face whatever might be in front of you,” she said.