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YOUR HEALTH: A drug used for aggressive cancers

Trodelvy is being prescribed to improve women cancer patient's quality of life

PITTSBURGH — Jane Ellen Keenan is a cancer warrior battling triple negative breast cancer since 2013. 

She had six months of chemo, and surgery. 

The cancer was gone for a time.

"Because it's a triple negative, the recurrence rate is fairly high and two years later."

Triple negative breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in people younger than age 50. Black women and Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed.

The cancer had returned to Jane Ellen's lung. 

Her next therapy caused her wrists to swell. 

Another caused painful sores on her feet.

"When I talked to Dr. Brufsky, I said, okay, that one didn't work. What else you have?" 

After two failed therapies, Jane qualified for a drug called Trodelvy. 

It's what doctors call an antibody-drug conjugate.

"And what that means is that we take an antibody, which binds to a protein on the cancer cell, and we attach chemotherapy to it," explained Dr. Adam Brufski of the Hillman Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It's kind of like a magic bullet."

Trodelvy is an infusion

Jane Ellen receives the drug on days one and eight of a 21-day cycle. 

For now, it's stopped the cancer from growing.

"We as docs know that once you've been through a lot of chemotherapy for metastatic triple negative breast cancer, you know, you don't do very well, but these people did, a lot of them did, incredibly well," said Dr. Brofsky.

The study included 529 people diagnosed with metastatic triple negative breast cancer that had grown after being treated with two or more chemotherapy regimens. 

The results showed that more of the cancers responded to Trodelvy compared to chemotherapy.

"The phase III ASCENT trial is the first phase III study to demonstrate a significant improvement in efficacy with a first-in-class Trop-2-directed antibody-drug conjugate compared with standard chemotherapy," said  Aditya Bardia, Director of Precision Medicine at the Center for Breast Cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

Dr. Brufsky says Trodelvy is not a cure, but it gives patients quality of life. 

A retired veterinarian, Jane Ellen says she takes her cues from the animals she spent a career treating.

"They do not complain," she said.

"They just do what they need to do and move forward. And that's what you have to do."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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