PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WGEM)— About 15 percent of all women diagnosed with breast cancer have triple negative breast cancer, meaning drugs that target estrogen, progesterone, and HER-2 protein—won’t work.
In the past, if the cancer returned, patients have had very few options.
Now there is a newly approved drug that is stopping the cancer in its tracks.
Jane Ellen Keenan is a cancer warrior, battling triple negative breast cancer since 2013. She had six months of chemo, and surgery.
The cancer was gone ... for a time.
“Because it's a triple negative, the recurrence rate is fairly high and two years later…” shared Jane Ellen Keenan.
The cancer had returned to her lung. Her next therapy caused her wrists to swell. Another caused painful sores on her feet.
Jane recalled, “When I talked to Dr. Brufsky, I said, okay, that one didn't work. What else you have?”
After two failed therapies, Jane qualified for a drug called Trodelvy. It’s what doctors call an antibody- drug conjugate.
“And what that means is that we take an antibody, which binds to a protein on the cancer cell, and we attach chemotherapy to it. It's kind of like a magic bullet,” described Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
Trodelvy is an infusion.
Jane Ellen receives the drug on days one and eight of a 21-day cycle. For now, it’s stopped the cancer from growing.
Dr Brufsky explained, “We as docs know that once you've been through a lot of chemotherapy for metastatic triple negative breast cancer, you know, you don't do very well, but these people did, a lot of them did, incredibly well!”
Dr. Brufsky says Trodelvy is not a cure, but it gives patients quality of life.
A retired veterinarian, Jane Ellen says she takes her cues from the animals she spent a career treating.
“They do not complain. They just do what they need to do and move forward. And that's what you have to do,” Jane shared.
Doctor Brufsky says Trodelvy also has what he called a bystander effect, meaning the drug is released not only into the cancer cell, but also killed cancer cells outside the target.
He says the side effects include some digestive issues, low white blood cell count, making patients more susceptible to infection, and in the case of some patients like Jane Ellen—hair loss.