Health Team

Targeted breast cancer drug shows promise with fewer side effects

Posted February 10
Updated February 11

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— Fighting breast cancer is often compared to a war.

For many patients, the cancer treatments, with all the debilitating side effects, feel like friendly fire.

A new drug trial, though, helped one woman fight her breast cancer with a better quality of life.

Amy Charney, 48, planned to run in last year's Boston Marathon, but in November 2014, she found a lump in her breast, which was later diagnosed as a type of breast cancer called "ductal carcinoma in situ."

The treatment plan was a lumpectomy radiation and then back to her active life. That is, until doctors discovered another small tumor which tested positive as “invasive ductal carcinoma." For that tumor type, doctors recommend standard chemotherapy and a mastectomy.

Two months after the surgery, Charney qualified for the "Attempt Trial" through the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, which used a less toxic chemotherapy study drug called T-DM1.

"(It) has much less side effects and can make my cancer treatment that much more manageable," Charney said.

The drug didn't make her lose her hair and didn't cause weakness or nausea because T-DM1 targets the tumor site, not the whole body.

It fits a trend in the development of new cancer therapies.

"To use drugs that don't cause a lot of quality-of-life problems and are also safe to give and are effective – that's a win win for everybody," said Dr. Lisa Carey, a breast cancer researcher at UNC.

Charney was able to run the Boston Marathon last year, and never missed her infusions, which occurred once every three weeks.

"And God willing, this will be the last time she has to come to our infusion center," Carey said.

Charney sees it as a finish line at the end of a 14-month marathon.

"You just hope you sort of cross that finish line as a champion," Charney said.

Although Charney finished her treatments, the drug trial itself continues and therefore the results are not in.

However, Carey said the predecessor drug for this trial was very successful, and it would be a great advance in fighting this noninvasive type of breast cancer.


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