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New hope: Cancer research seems to finally be gaining momentum

Posted Jun 05 2013 5:20pm
June 5, 2013 - Posted by tamilb

A closer look at cancer research

It seems like for the longest time, cancer research was going nowhere. For decades, breast cancer treatments have been comprised of the same old toxic brew of chemotherapy options. I still see it happening. I’m shocked when I see newly diagnosed patients given pretty much the same regimen I had back in 2002. Adriamycin for God’s sake – that stuff almost killed me!

But there are signs that the targeted treatments the research community has been promising are finally seeing the light of day. Treatments, such as Perjeta (which is working for my friend Darlene ) and TDM-1, have made a huge impact on the lives of my friends with HER2-positive breast cancer. And there are now new drugs for people like me with hormone-positive breast cancer, which accounts for 3/4 of all breast cancer cases.

Take Afinitor, for instance, which I am now taking. Afinitor, which was just FDA-approved last summer, is intended for post-menopausal women whose cancers have developed resistance to ‘hormonal’ treatments. It  targets the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway, which is hyperactivated in many types of cancers. mTOR is a protein that acts as an important regulator of cell division, blood vessel growth and cell metabolism.. Studies show that blocking mTOR is a proven approach to maximize the benefit of existing advanced breast cancer treatments. In less scientific terms, it’s working for me. My last scans actually showed regression, which hasn’t happened in a long time.

Immunotherapy drugs, are now making their way through clinical trials. My husband sent me a link to a New York Times article about developments in this area. The new drugs work by disabling a brake on the immune system called the programmed death 1 receptor, or PD-1.  The drugs show great promise for melanoma patients, but also could be used to treat other cancers.

It seems that drugs are being approved more quickly, as can be seen by the investigational drug palbociclib (PD 0332991), which may stop the growth of tumor cells by blocking some of the enzymes needed for cell growth. I first heard about the UCLA trial, which was announced at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December and have been following it closely.  The phase II study compared the use of the drug with the standard anti-estrogen drug, letrozole (AKA Femara) compared to patients taking letrozole alone. The findings showed that the median progression-free survival of patients given the palbociclib-letrozole combination was 26.1 months, compared with 7.5 months for those given letrozole alone. It even shrunk tumors for a majority of the participants. The results were quite outstanding; so much so that the FDA has given it a “breakthrough therapy” designation to accelerate it’s approval. It’s now in Phase III, the final phase before gaining approval.

I tried to get on the palbociclib trial, but learned I had too many prior treatments to be eligible. But I’m hopeful that it will be approved quickly enough for it to be an option when, as it often happens, my current treatment stops working.

This just goes to show you that doctors who give death sentences to patients have not taken into account what the future might hold. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer back in 2008, these drugs didn’t even exist. Who knows what other developments might be on the horizon? It’s cause for new hope for all of us.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 at 5:20 PM and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the feed. You can , or from your own site.
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