December 16, 2020
Why I joined a targeted therapy clinical trial for triple-negative breast cancer
BY Sarah Hosea
Before my diagnosis in February 2019, no one in my family had ever had cancer. So we were all very surprised when I was diagnosed with triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma — a form of breast cancer — at age 27.
It turns out that I inherited a genetic mutation called BRCA1 from my father. He was adopted, so we didn’t know anything about his biological parents.
The bad news is the BRCA1 mutation makes it more likely that I’ll develop both breast and ovarian cancers at some point. But the good news is it also made me eligible for a clinical trial at MD Anderson.
Why I joined a clinical trial
The clinical trial involved a new drug, a type of targeted therapy that includes a PARP inhibitor. It works by preventing cancer cells from repairing themselves, which eventually leads to their death.
If I joined the trial, I’d have to take the drug once a day in pill form for six months. Then, I’d have a double mastectomy, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy and six months of chemotherapy. Later, I’d have breast reconstruction surgery.
The only real downside I could see was that the clinical trial would extend the length of my treatment. So, instead of being finished in eight months, it would take me a little more than a year. That seemed like a long time at first. But then I thought, “I’m so young. How could I not take this opportunity?”
My breast cancer treatment results: even better than expected
The most compelling reason I found for joining the clinical trial was learning that triple-negative breast cancer doesn’t always respond well to chemotherapy alone. If I had had that first, there was only a 50/50 chance it would’ve kill the cancer before I had surgery. So, joining the clinical trial seemed like a no-brainer.
I started taking the new drug in March 2019. My double mastectomy took place seven months later. I finished my radiation therapy in December, and my last chemotherapy treatment was on June 16, 2020. I had breast reconstruction on July 27, 2020. So, I am now completely finished with my breast cancer treatment.
I am also completely cancer-free, and I have been since my double mastectomy. Dr. Murthy was so excited that she called me a few days afterwards to let me know the pathology results. She said all of the tissue samples she’d collected and tested had been dead cancer cells. That was an even better result than we were expecting. We were both so relieved that we sat in her office and cried during my follow-up appointment.
Joining a clinical trial was the best decision I ever made
Joining a clinical trial at MD Anderson was the best decision I ever made. And not just for myself.
Most women don’t get diagnosed with breast cancer until their 50s or 60s, so there’s only so much data that researchers can collect from them. But I’m only 27, which means my doctors will have a much longer time to study me and look at things like side effects. Knowing that this could help other patients is a big plus.
There’s also a genetic component to my cancer, so if I ever have children, they could potentially have this genetic mutation, too. My hope is that by then, better treatments will be available. But even if there aren’t, I’m glad to be helping advance breast cancer treatment now.
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TopicsTriple-Negative Breast Cancer Genetics Testing and Counseling Breast Cancer Clinical Trials Targeted Therapy Hereditary Cancer Syndromes
How could I not take this opportunity?