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Health Beat: New therapy, new hope for aggressive breast cancer

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 22 2014 11:29:31 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 22 2014 04:47:26 PM CST

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for about 15 percent of all new breast cancer cases in the United States, but it leads to 25 percent of all breast cancer deaths.

SEATTLE -

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for about 15 percent of all new breast cancer cases in the United States, but it leads to 25 percent of all breast cancer deaths.

A diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer means that the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth are not present in the cancer tumor.

It's an aggressive cancer that, until now, has only been treated with standard chemotherapy. Now, a new therapy is offering patients hope for the first time.

Brenda Beguin's little dog, Cody, is always by her side.

"He takes care of me," said Beguin, who has needed the support.

Eight years ago, Beguin was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. Three years ago, it came back.

"My doctor actually told my daughter and I, 'Instead of doing chemotherapy, you probably should just do the most that you can with the life that you have,'" Beguin said.

Beguin, however, didn’t listen. She enrolled in a clinical trial testing new therapies for triple negative cancer.

"Right now, the only treatment we have for triple negative breast cancer is chemotherapy," said Dr. Julie R. Gralow, director, breast medical oncology, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Doctors are now studying PARP inhibitors to prevent cancer cells from becoming resistant to chemo.

"It affects the ability of the tumor cell to heal itself after getting chemotherapy," Gralow said.

One other study found triple negative patients with advanced cancer who took the drugs with chemo survived about five months longer than those who received chemo only, with very few side effects. 

Today, Beguin takes only the PARP drug.

"I feel it has saved my life," she said.

Gralow said one downside of the PARP inhibitors is they are very expensive. While still in clinical trials, she estimates they might cost between $2,000 and $10,000 a month, if they hit the market.

The next step for this research is a larger clinical trial that will test the drug on more patients. During the clinical trial, patients get the drug for free.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Julie Gralow about a new therapy for breast cancer patients