Dr. Carmen Calfa is a breast medical oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. She treats patients at Sylvester in Miami and Plantation, and is the principal investigator at Sylvester for several breast cancer clinical trials. For more information on these trials, please call 305-243-2647 or CLICK HERE to visit online.
Panic washed over Jackie Barrett when she first received her breast cancer diagnosis. “My eyes went dark. I couldn’t hear anything. It was like a train was coming at me,” she says.
Jackie’s oncologist explained that her type of breast cancer is called triple-negative because it does not have receptors for estrogen, progesterone or the HER2 protein. This means there are fewer treatment options. Triple-negative is a more rare and aggressive form of the disease that does not respond to hormonal therapy and approved targeted treatments, as most breast cancers do.
What does it mean if you have triple negative breast cancer? This image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imagines likens the typical breast cancer cell to a house with three locks. In triple negative cells, there are no locks.
After the initial shock of this diagnosis, Jackie took swift action, undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Following her treatment, she became the first person at Sylvester to enroll in a new clinical trial called ACCRU. It’s designed specifically for patients successfully treated for triple-negative breast cancer, to test if a vaccine can keep it from coming back.
“When you catch triple negative cancer early, you try to do the best you can to get rid of the cancer right then and prevent a recurrence.” says Dr. Carmen Calfa, a breast medical oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center who oversees this clinical trial and Jackie’s medical care as a participant.
Triple negative breast cancer affects 10 to 15 percent of breast cancer patients. Because it grows rapidly, by the time it’s discovered most people are in advanced stages of the disease. In Jackie’s case, her cancer was detected early and responded well to chemotherapy. Since she was disease free after treatment, she was able to participate in the ACCRU trial testing the effects of a folate receptor alpha peptide vaccine together with oral chemotherapy and an immune booster
Every 28 days Jackie comes to Sylvester for blood work, a physical exam and an injection. In this is double-blind study, participants don’t not know if they are getting the actual vaccine or a placebo. Right now Jackie says is feeling good and her cancer has remained at bay.
“Jackie believes in the science, just as I believe, that if you really make immune system aware of the disease it can go and fight for you, and that’s why Jackie’s in this trial,” says Dr.Calfa.
“It feels good to be proactive,” says Jackie. “I walk around here with this band of women who tell me where to go check up on me, send me texts, want to know how I’m feeling, you just feel supported here
More than 24 clinical trials are currently open to breast cancer patients at Sylvester. “Over the last three decades we increased the breast cancer cure rate by about 39 percent,” says Dr. Calfa. That’s huge, and we got there through research.”
Dr. Calfa wants women to be aware of the options research participation provides. “Be aware that through clinical trials you have access to drugs before they get approved,” she says. “There are innovative ways of making the immune system your best friend that can help you win the fight against breast cancer.”
Jackie says participating in the ACCRU trial is not just about helping herself.
“I’m not doing this for me. This may not save my life, but I hope it saves someone else’s.”
FOCUSING ON YOU
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