This article is written and sponsored by UHealth, the University of Miami Health System.
Dr. Frances Valdes-Albini is a breast oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System. To learn more about innovative treatments for breast cancer or to make an appointment, call 305-243-1000 or visit the University of Miami's health news blog.
A week after her thirty-sixth birthday, Debora Pedrini was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. The emotional impact of the news was heightened by the fact that she was just a few weeks away from the culmination of a long journey to start a family via in vitro fertilization. The diagnosis forced her to change course.
"Letting go of your plans was the hardest part for me. I wasn't ready for that," says Debora.
She embraced her breast cancer treatment plan with determination. After multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Debora and her doctors were shocked to find a new tumor growing, even as the original mass shrunk. That's when Debora began reaching out to breast cancer specialists around the country.
"From all the advice and all the conversations I had with multiple oncologists, was this one thing: The only thing we recommend is for you to get your hands on immunotherapy," says Debora.
When a clinical trial for patients with triple negative breast cancer opened at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Debora was considered a perfect fit. The immunotherapy drug made available to her through the trial has shown success in keeping other types of cancers from returning. The hope is that it will have a similar results for patients with triple negative breast cancer, for which there are fewer treatment options.
"I was so happy. To me, the clinical trial means hope," she says.
Immunotherapy engages the body's own immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. Dr. Frances Valdes-Albini, breast oncologist at Sylvester and principal investigator of the trial says, "Immunotherapy has already shown a positive impact in patients with advanced triple negative breast cancer. We want to bring this into the early stage setting to improve survival rates and help ensure cures for our patients."
As a participant in the trial, Debora receives immunotherapy infusions once every three weeks at Sylvester at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center. The immunotherapy study is just one of more than 15 clinical trials now open for breast cancer patients at Sylvester.
According to Dr. Valdes, this study is for patients with early stage disease who have received standard treatment, and at the time of surgery have residual disease. "Patients are randomized to close monitoring, which is currently standard of care versus the immunotherapy," she says. "It's a very exciting, important study and we're very grateful that we can offer to our patients here, whether it's at a Sylvester or if they're coming from other centers in South Florida."
As Debora continues on her cancer journey, she remains optimistic about the future. "Your old self just goes out the door. Now you have this new life. And you learn to live with it. It's like every change in life that you don't want to accept. But you have to, because this is the life we have."
Although immunotherapy has shown promise for patients with triple negative breast cancer, it is not yet approved by the FDA, says Dr. Valdes. "This is the only way that she can get this additional therapy for her diagnosis," she says. "It is exceedingly important that immunotherapy is studied for this particular type of cancer, so we can offer it to more patients."
Focusing On You
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