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In Case You Missed It – Episode 2, 5/1/20

By Krissa Smith

There’s been a lot of news lately. So much news that if you haven’t been following every headline, every day of the week, you might have missed something.

But that’s why I’m here. As the Director of Research Programs for Susan G. Komen, I get to hear all about the coolest and newest things happening in breast cancer research. And there’s been some cool and new things happening for breast cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s what you might have missed:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved another new drug for metastatic breast cancer patients. This drug, called Trodelvy, is for the treatment of metastatic triple negative breast cancer.

Trodelvy targets a protein called Trop-2 and delivers a drug that interferes with a cell’s ability to grow.

This is really good – and cool – news because metastatic triple negative breast cancer has few effective therapies and often a poor prognosis.

Here’s why:

Triple negative (being negative) might sound good, especially when talking about cancer, but it’s not great. When a tumor is positive for specific proteins, it means the tumor has those proteins and they can be targeted with treatments, which kill the tumor.

Breast cancers, for example, often rely on hormones like estrogen or progesterone or other growth factors to really drive that tumor growth. The types of tumors that have estrogen and sometimes progesterone proteins and are called ER+/PR+ tumors. Treatment that suppresses these hormones can really help slow tumor growth.

HER2 is another growth factor that was also found to drive a tumor to grow aggressively. HER2 now has a specific treatment, which can also slow tumor growth.

So what does this all mean?

Triple negative tumors don’t have estrogen or progesterone proteins. They also don’t have HER2. They are ER-/PR-/HER2-. In other words, they are triple negative. That means patients with these tumors have fewer options for treatment and typically rely on chemotherapies that work to kill all rapidly growing cells and often have worse side effects.

A Komen funded researcher, Dr. Aditya Bardia, was the lead investigator for the trial that studied Trodelvy and stated optimistically that, “this new drug will give clinicians another tool for treating patients with triple negative breast cancer.”

In other news you might have missed, a group of cancer researchers virtually attended the 2020 American Association for Cancer Researcher conference. On the agenda: COVID-19 and the impact to cancer patients.

New research was presented there that confirmed cancer patients with blood or lung malignancies, or metastatic tumors that have spread throughout the body, have a higher risk of death or other severe complications from COVID-19 compared to those without cancer. 

This news is especially important for metastatic breast cancer patients. Breast cancer most often metastasizes, or spreads, to the lungs, bone, liver, and brain, so breast cancer patients need to be extra vigilant to avoid exposure to respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19. 

Breast cancer patients with metastatic breast cancer in the lungs have always been advised to be careful about avoiding infection even from simple colds and other respiratory illnesses, but it’s even more important for their health now. And now doctors have evidence to support recommendations they make to protect patients.