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YOUR HEALTH: Tracking down the right drug and the wrong protein in breast cancer patients

Researchers are trying to match the right drug and a problem protein to help treat breast cancer patients.

LA JOLLA, California – A huge majority of breast cancer patients are estrogen-positive: eight out of every ten, in fact.

Doctors can't predict which of them will respond to standard estrogen-blocking drugs.   40% of them won't and their cancers grow despite treatment.

Helen Eckman was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 42 and 49.

"And then, surprisingly, at 65, I was diagnosed with breast cancer that had gone and metastasized into my bones."

She's estrogen-positive, but there wasn't a reliable test to see if she'd respond to standard therapy.

Researcher Svasti Haricharan is working to change that now.

"We identified one particular protein that when it's lost or defective in women with breast cancer, they do not respond to standard care," explained Svasti Haricharan, an assistant professor of Cancer Immunology at Sanford Burnham Prebys.

That's about a third of ER-positive women in Dr. Haricharan's study.

She hopes to use an existing test that identifies the DNA defect in colorectal patients and a drug for metastatic breast cancer for treatment-resistant patients.

"The drug already is FDA approved, it's already in the clinic. The diagnostic test for this protein is already FDA approved and in the clinic. It's just a question of bringing them both together."

Existing approval means the test and treatment can get to patients more quickly.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:   There are three types of hormones that are associated with breast cancer: estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR) and hormone negative.  About 80% of all diagnosed breast cancer is ER positive, and of that 65% is PR positive as well, but the problem is that some of the cancers might not respond to therapies causing it to spread and return.   Dr. Haricharan says that the goal for her research is not have a woman go through 20 years of therapy before it gets cured, but rather be able to get them the right treatment immediately.

Helen's goldendoodle Dakota keeps things light while she presses on for herself, her two daughters and seven granddaughters.

"My hope is that even though I've gone through this journey painfully, but well. I would hope that my daughters and my granddaughters won't have to go through it at all."

The drug has worked in a clinical trial already.   The diagnostic test could be available in the next five years.

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.