Avera Medical Minute: Triple negative breast cancer

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - Triple negative breast cancer accounts for about 10 to 20 percent of diagnosed breast cancers. The cancer can be more aggressive and is more likely to reoccur.

To help understand and cure this threatening disease, Avera doctors are offering a clinical trial called B-59.

Paula Fitts was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer on Sept. 11 by her OB-GYN.

"I was diagnosed by a regular checkup," she said. "I was on schedule with my mammograms, I was on schedule with all of my care, and my OB-GYN was the one that found the lump, and then we proceeded from there with testing and treatment and diagnosis."

Fitts, her husband and Dr. Jones decided to take part in the B-59 clinical trial.

"We made that decision on was, just throw the kitchen sink at it, and take everything that we can," she said.

The trial lasts for one year. Chemotherapy is given for about five months of that.

Then, some patients will receive a medicine that boosts their immune system to fight the cancer.

The different part of this trial is that the surgery is the last step.

"Traditionally we would have patients receive surgery, followed by chemotherapy, followed by radiation therapy," Jones said. "Now and over the last 10 to 15 years we've been using chemotherapy before surgery, and it's made the surgery much more successful, and now we're adding immune system therapy to improve our success rates on top of that."

"I started with 12 weeks of chemo," Fitts said. "It was a combination of a couple different drugs. I have the trial drug, every three weeks I have the trial drug."

This trial is a double-blind study, meaning both Dr. Jones and Fitts will not know if she will receive the medicine or a placebo, but Fitts said taking part is worth it.

"I think the thought that it could help somebody else, you know, I could be getting the trial, I could be getting the placebo, but either way, it's going to help somebody," she said. "It's going to help down the road. I have two daughters, I have a granddaughter, so that's what you think about is something you could help somebody else, and if it's something that helps me along the way, then that's a bonus."

"We need to be able to compare and see how it would do to the standard of care, chemotherapy," Jones said. "That's why it's there, so everybody receives the absolute standard of care and very aggressive therapy. It will be half the people will receive the treatment drug, and half the people will receive a placebo."

Fitts said she is lucky she found the cancer as soon as she did. Now she wants others to make sure they go in for regular checkups.

"I preach to my girlfriends that, you know, that mammograms and self-checks that it's, I can't preach that enough, for any woman out there to stay on top of your testing. So my diagnosis, because it is a faster growing it, who knows how long it had been there, maybe it had only been there a few months," she said.

According to Avera doctors, trials like this are helping more patients survive.

For more information, visit www.avera.org.