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New Therapy for Aggressive Breast Cancer

May work for patients with few options

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for about 15 percent of all new breast cancer cases in the U.S., but it leads to 25 percent of all breast cancer deaths. It's  aggressive and difficult to fight because it doesn't respond to common treatments that target  most breast cancers. So  the only treatment is chemotherapy. But researchers  are optimistic about a new therapy.  

A diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer means that the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth are not present in the cancer tumor. It’s an aggressive cancer that—until now—has only been treated with standard chemo. Now, a new therapy is offering patients hope for the first time.

Brenda Beguin‘s little dog, Cody, is always by her side. “He takes care of me,” Brenda said.

She’s needed the support. Eight years ago, she was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. Three years ago, it came back. “My doctor actually told my daughter and I, ‘instead of doing chemotherapy, you probably should just do the most that you can with the life that you have,’” Brenda said.

However, Brenda didn’t listen. She enrolled in a clinical trial testing new therapies for triple negative cancer. “Right now, the only treatment we have for triple negative breast cancer is chemotherapy,” Julie R. Gralow, MD, Director, Breast Medical Oncology, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance said.

Doctors are now studying PARP inhibitors to prevent cancer cells from becoming resistant to chemo. “It affects the ability of the tumor cell to heal itself after getting chemotherapy,” Dr. Gralow said.

One other study found triple negative patients with advanced cancer who took the drugs with chemo survived about five months longer than those who received chemo only, with very few side effects. 

Today, Brenda only takes the PARP drug. “I feel it has saved my life,” Brenda said.

Dr. Gralow says one downside of the PARP inhibitors is they are very expensive. While still in clinical trials, she estimates they might cost between 2,000 and 10,000 dollars a month, if they hit the market.

The next step for this research is a larger clinical trial that will test the drug on more patients. During the clinical trial, patients get the drug for free.

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