Coronavirus pandemic postpones Santa Cruz cancer patient's potentially life-saving clinical trials

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The novel coronavirus has closed or postponed more than 80 percent of clinical trials across the U.S.

It's affecting tens of thousands of patients across the country, like Santa Cruz-native Kati Cesareo, who have been diagnosed with cancer.

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"It was a shock, but I felt something deep inside me that something wasn't right," she said.

In 2018, at age 34, Cesareo was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative.

"Mine is extra aggressive and we really don't know why," she said.

Currently, there is no targeted treatment for triple-negative - forcing patients like Cesareo to rely on critical trials.

But, the two she needs are postponed or may even be canceled because of impacts from COVID-19.

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"It's very upsetting for me...it's something that could potentially save my life," said Cesareo. "The timing of it for someone like me who has a very aggressive disease is crucial."

Cesareo's not alone. She's one of tens of thousands of patients across the country whose access to care is on hold.

"All new enrollment has stopped for most trials, that's what I'm concerned about," said Laura Esserman, UCSF lead surgeon and breast cancer oncology specialist.

"I think we rapidly need to find a way to get these trials back open," Esserman said. "We are looking for new solutions that really extend people's lives."

Like many leaders in healthcare, Esserman believes clinical trials are and should be considered an 'essential service.'

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"Extending her life is really going to depend on finding a clinical trial where she might get a good response," said Esserman. "There's no guarantee."

Cesareo's cancer has resurfaced twice in two years. For her, timely treatment is crucial, but she's not giving up hope.

"There's been a lot of bumps in the road and I just see this as another bump," she said. "We just keep moving forward."

Currently, patients already on clinical trials are still receiving treatment. All new enrollment at research institutions across the U.S., including UCSF, has temporarily stopped.

ABC7 reached out to Gov. Gavin Newsom's Office to see why clinical trials in California are not considered "essential services." Our team is waiting to hear back.

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