Back in the dark ages some fourteen years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the oncologist had to rattle the cage of the pathologist to get the results of a test that is now considered routine. The test was for a proto-oncogene called Her2-neu. My tumor was positive for over-expressing this protein.
This was not good news. It meant my cancer was even more dangerous.
In 1998 a drug called Herceptin was in clinical trials to determine if the drug could improve outcomes in people that had this tumor type. Researchers also knew that positive Her2-neu status was another one of those pieces of the puzzle that often seemed to be present in women like me who developed breast cancer at a young age. At the time I received chemo, Herceptin was only available to those with metastatic disease. I had Stage IIB breast cancer and did not meet the criteria.
Not long after I finished chemo, Herceptin proved to be highly effective against Her2-neu positive tumors and became more widely available. This is the way drug research works. It is a long, expensive difficult road that is littered with failure.
Of couse 1998 was not really the dark ages. The point is, things change fast in cancer research and treatment. The two are inseparably linked. Back in 1998 I also did not know I carried a defective BRCA1 gene. Insurance considered the genetic testing “experimental” and would not pay the $3500 tab.
Herceptin and many drugs like it come to market only with the combined efforts of many groups, including patients. For BRCA-positive people, the PARP inhibitors show promise, but may never reach the finish line. Why? There are not enough women who qualify enrolled in clinical trials.
Do you know anyone with advanced breast cancer who is BRCA positive? There is a large Phase II clinical trial for PARP inhibitors going on. Participating could mean a breakthrough for those with hereditary BRCA cancers, as well as the wider cancer community. Of course there are no guarantees. This is how science works.
For more information please read this important blog post from Sue Friedman, the founder of FORCE.