Triple negative breast cancer. For the nearly 27,000 women a year in the United States, it’s a tough diagnosis to get.
Triple negative breast cancer is the most deadly form of breast cancer, with fast-growing tumors, that disproportionately affect younger and African-American women, and is insensitive to some of the most effective therapies currently available.
That’s why Thomas Jefferson University and Hospitals continue to focus on developing better treatment options for these women.
Researchers at Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center are investigating new targeted therapies and discovering genetic markers in lab research and clinical trials at the Hospitals that could ultimately guide patients and their physicians to develop a more precise plan of attack against triple negative cancers.
Today, there are no targeted therapies to treat triple negative patients, and as a result, these women all receive the same treatment regimen. The disease is treatable, especially when caught early, but like with any cancer, we can do better.
“This is about female personalized medicine,” said Agnieszka Witkiewicz, MD, Associate Professor of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology at Jefferson. “So we’re taking important steps to better direct treatment.”
One clinical trial set to start this fall is looking at a class of drugs that’s found success in treating other breast cancers. Patients will be given chemotherapy combined with the drug called a PARP inhibitor before they have surgery, so called neo-adjuvant therapy.
“Our hope is that women with triple negative breast cancers will better respond to treatment if they are taking chemo plus a PARP inhibitor, which is aimed at the defective DNA repair mechanism of these cancers,” said Adam Berger, MD, a surgical oncologist of the Department of Surgery and the Jefferson Breast Care Center. “With better response to the treatment, women will have more shrinkage of the tumors and will have a better prognosis from the cancer.”
Another clinical trial at Jefferson that is currently recruiting patients is investigating the tumor suppressor gene retinoblastoma (RB), typically associated with an eye cancer predominantly diagnosed in children.
Researchers previously found that women with triple negative breast cancer being treated with chemotherapy who didn’t have the RB gene had a significantly better response to it. This prompted a clinical trial here at Jefferson to validate those findings and determine how they can be applied to clinical practice for patients.
Dr. Iozzo and his team may have uncovered a promising weapon to stop triple negative breast cancer from metastasizing: a natural substance known as decorin found in the surrounding tissue of a tumor.