PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, often the bones, lungs, brain and liver. The cancer can come back months, or even years, after a woman’s original diagnosis, and 30 percent of women who are treated successfully for early-stage breast cancer have it recur. Doctors now have a new drug for women with metastatic breast cancer where nothing else has worked. ENHERTU
University of Pittsburgh professor Martica “Tica” Hall, PhD bought a designer jacket for a very special occasion, one that she thought she might not live to see. Hall survived breast cancer in 2010 – she calls it her medical speed bump. But three years ago, she was on a ZOOM call and couldn’t stop coughing. It wasn’t COVID. The cancer was back.
“My son was a freshman in college at the time. The first thing I thought of is, ‘I’m not gonna see Gabriel graduate.’ I knew I wasn’t gonna be there. And that is the only thing that makes me cry or get misty-eyed, is not being there for my son,” Hall recalls.
Chemo kept the cancer from growing, but then on a visit with her son, she felt sudden pain in her abdomen. The cancer had spread to her liver.
Hall expresses, “I was decompensating medically, getting worse every day. I was in the hospital. You’re supposed to be getting better, but I was getting worse. They said, ‘Two choices, you can stay here, but you’re not gonna leave the hospital alive. Or you can go home.’”
Hall went home to die. Family and friends flocked to Pittsburgh to say goodbye. She gave away her clothes, designed an urn, then had a service.
“It felt sort of like being at your own funeral because people were saying such nice things. It was really wonderful. I know that sounds really odd, but it was so life-affirming,” Hall exclaims.
Doctors gave her less than a month to live, but then, something happened that amazed her friends and family.
After friends thought it was odd that she was looking better while approaching death, Hall decided to call her long-time oncologist, Dr. Adam Brufsky, MD at UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital, who found one last option. In the few weeks she had been home, a new drug had become available for women with HER2 metastatic breast cancer, called ENHERTU.
Dr. Brufsky explains, “It delivers the chemotherapy directly to the cancer cells that express HER2 anywhere in the body.”
Hall gets an infusion of ENHERTU every three weeks. For now, it’s keeping the cancer under control.
Hall exclaims, “I don’t think of it as a battle. I don’t. I’m not fighting. I’m thriving. I’m living. I’m on a journey.”
A journey that will take her to Brunswick, Maine this May, wearing her new suit for Gabriel’s graduation.
ENHERTU is not a cure, but Dr. Brufsky calls it a game-changer. Women on ENHERTU survive an average of more than two years on the drug, and their quality of life is good during that time. For women like Tica, that means time to witness major life milestones, like a graduation, wedding, or birth of a child.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.
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Adam Brufsky, MD, Medical Oncologist, UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital
TOPIC: ENHERTU: METASTATIC BREAST CANCER DRUG GRANTS TICA’S WISH
REPORT: MB #5183
BACKGROUND: Metastatic breast cancer is also classified as Stage 4 breast cancer. The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This usually includes the lungs, liver, bones or brain. The spread of cancer usually happens through one or more of the following steps: (1) cancer cells invade nearby healthy cells, (2) cancer cells penetrate the circulatory or lymph system, (3) migration through circulation, (4) cancer cells lodge in capillaries, or (5) small new tumors grow. It’s estimated that among U.S. women and men there will be 268,600 new cases of advanced breast cancer and 41,760 breast cancer deaths. Of those deaths, it is estimated that 97-99% of those will be from metastatic breast cancer. Men get breast cancer too. It is estimated that there will be 2670 new male breast cancer diagnosis in 2019 and 500 of those will die due to metastatic breast cancer.
DIAGNOSING: Metastatic breast cancer symptoms can be very different depending on the cancer’s location, but signs of metastatic breast cancer may include: back, bone, or joint pain that doesn’t go away, difficulty urinating, numbness or weakness anywhere in the body, a constant dry cough, chest pain, loss of appetite, jaundice, seizures, and/or loss of balance. If you have a history of breast cancer and develop any symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests to see if the cancer has returned: blood tests, MRIs, CT or PET scans, or a biopsy.
NEW TECHNOLOGY: ENHERTU (chemical name: fam-trastuzumab-deruxtecan-nxki) is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat unresectable or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer in people who have previously received an anti-HER2 medicine. Doctors call ENHERTU an antibody-drug conjugate targeted therapy. The combination of the topoisomerase I inhibitor and the linking compound is called deruxtecan. The linking compound attaches (conjugates) the fam-trastuzumab to the topoisomerase I inhibitor chemotherapy. ENHERTU was designed to deliver the topoisomerase I inhibitor to cancer cells in a targeted way by attaching the topoisomerase I inhibitor to the fam-trastuzumab. The fam-trastuzumab then carries the topoisomerase I inhibitor to the HER2 receptors. This way, the topoisomerase I inhibitor is less toxic to healthy cells and more effective in treating cancer cells.
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