Researchers look at triple negative breast cancer

June 23, 2011 7:21:18 PM PDT
A leading cancer organization is funding new research in the Bay Area, into a particularly deadly form of breast cancer. It takes a heavy toll on younger women, and well as Latinas and African Americans.

Cancer survivor Louisa Gloger cherishes every moment with her young family. Nearly two years ago, she was giving her daughters a shower, when she made an unnerving discovery.

"I had to reach across me to get some soap or something, and actually brushed against my breast with my hand and felt something hard and alarm bells went off," said Gloger.

The diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease that often strikes younger women. It has a particularly high mortality rate among African American women.

"Obviously, I was completely blindsided and shocked. I was 31 years old at the time," said Gloger.

The "triple negative" refers to the three common proteins that chemotherapy drugs zero in on, to shrink or kill the tumor. Without those targets, the disease can be difficult to treat. So Gloger opted for an experimental drug, now in clinical trial.

"For me it worked, so we'll see long term, but worked really well during treatment, my tumor shrunk by about 95 percent," said Gloger.

Doctors say the effects of new cancer drugs on triple negative breast cancer is still unpredictable. What works for one woman, may not work for another. So major research projects are now underway to better understand the disease.

"This has really been over the last few months very new. The goal is to really try and figure out how to parse out or separate out triple negative breast cancer into its real biologic groups because its only by going down that route that we're really going to individualize cancer treatment," said Hope Rugo, M.D. from UCSF.

Rugo is cancer researcher at UCSF and part of a team that's just been awarded a $6 million grant from the Susan G. Komen foundation. She says they're looking at classes of immune cells called macrophages that may help triple negative tumors grow.

"So we're hoping that we can move macrophage blockers relatively soon into the treatment of early stage breast cancer to try and cure more women with this very aggressive form of the disease," said Rugo.

In the meantime, Gloger has started a non-profit called Triple Step, which has already raised more than a quarter of a million dollars.

"I think I just decided I was going to fight this no matter what," said Gloger.

Both the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Triple Step offer a wealth of information for breast cancer patients and their families.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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