As a breast cancer survivor and patient advocate, Louisa Gloger has never stopped learning about her enemy. She was ready this fall, when a consortium of research centers, including the Buck Institute in Novato, released results from a groundbreaking genome study. It's helped -redefine specific subtypes of breast cancer, based on their molecular make-up, as opposed to where they appear in the body.
"And that's been really been a big deal. I actually went down and saw my doctor recently and asked, 'Which subtype am I?' Because I just wanted the information," said Gloger.
Gloger suffered from a sub-type of the breast cancer known as triple negative, which refers to its lack of protein receptors, found in other varieties. Doctors now believe triple negative breast cancer may have more in common with ovarian cancer than other breast cancers.
"It's obviously very exciting for anyone who's been effected by the disease," said Gloger.
Exciting, because researchers believe they're much closer to using gene testing and biomarkers to match cancer patients with emerging drugs, designed to target their specific subtype.
"It's not one kind of breast cancer, each of these are fairly different kinds of disease. So you have to test drugs for how they might behave in each of these tumor subsets," said Laura Esserman, M.D. from UCSF.
Esserman helps direct a clinical trial at UCSF that aims to develop just that sort of precision diagnosis and treatment. In the trial, dubbed I-SPY 2, patients are given drugs well before their tumors are removed. That gives researchers time to evaluate the drug's effectiveness against a variety of cancer types. Results on nearly half a dozen experimental drugs are expected in a matter of months, and Esserman believes the pace of new treatments will accelerate.
"I actually think we'll have much better treatments using combination of agents for her-2 positive breast cancers. I think that those will have gone from the most lethal to the least lethal because we can control them best. I think we're going to have new agents for triple negative cancer," said Esserman.
In the meantime, Louisa is busy both raising her three children, and running a support group called Triple Step Toward the Cure -- providing support for triple negative cancer patients as doctors work towards more targeted and effective treatments.
"Yes, to have this very targeted drug for each patient would be ideal," said Gloger.
I-SPY 2 is an ongoing trial and you can check out more information on it here.