Kansas City doctor’s unique research tool seeks better cure for - KCTV5 News

Kansas City doctor’s unique research tool seeks better cure for breast cancer

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Few people realize that the “search for a cure” actually involves different cures for different kinds of breast cancer. (KCTV5) Few people realize that the “search for a cure” actually involves different cures for different kinds of breast cancer. (KCTV5)

A local doctor is doing research that could eventually find a cure for the most aggressive kind of breast cancer.

Few people realize that the “search for a cure” actually involves different cures for different kinds of breast cancer.

Leslie McGuire was diagnosed in 2014. Only then did she realize all the distinctions.

“I just thought I had breast cancer. I didn't understand they were all these different types of cancer so that was just a learning curve all in itself,” said McGuire, who lives in just south of Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza. “And so when I was told that I had triple negative breast cancer and what it meant and that it is more aggressive, it was scary.”

Triple negative breast cancer is the least common of four identified subtypes of breast cancer. It is present in approximately 15-percent of breast cancer patients. It is more likely to affect young women than the other subtypes. It is also the least understood.

McGuire was only 30 years old when she got her diagnosis. Her son, Franklin, was 5 months old. She was confident the lump she felt was from breastfeeding, but with a family history of cancer, she went to the doctor, just in to be sure. She left in tears.

“I instantly started crying,” said McGuire. “I kind of knew that this was a pretty strong possibility for my life but I just thought it would be later in life. I didn't think I would be 30.”

The experiences of women like McGuire is one reason Dr. Priyanka Sharma created a research tool specific to triple negative breast cancer that’s the only one of its kind in the world.

“As I started my practice I was seeing several women that had this breast cancer that were younger than I am, or my age, and had young children. Some of them weren't doing well and not surviving the cancer,” said Sharma, who is an associate professor and practicing oncologist with the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Triple negative breast cancer is called that because it involves a tumor that comes back negative for the three already-identified receptors.

There is estrogen-positive breast cancer, progesterone-positive breast cancer, and HER2-positive breast cancer. Those all have receptors that can be targeted.  Triple negative is catch all, a “none of the above” in the multiple-choice test. That’s something Sharma wants to change by figuring out not what it isn’t but rather what it is or, more accurately, what they are.

“It is likely that this triple negative breast cancer is actually three or four different subtypes and one new treatment approach probably won't work for all of them,” said Sharma. “We are using the same chemotherapy drugs for this cancer for the last 20 years that we use for other cancers. It's not tailored for this particular type of cancer.”

To identify the subtypes and determine what treatments work best for each, Sharma started the only registry of its kind in the world.

Housed in the Goodwin Lab at the University of Kansas Medical Center are blood and tissue samples and medical records from 800 women who’ve had triple negative breast cancer.

“Over a period of time we make correlations of the clinical variables: women's age, their genetic mutation status, their treatment response, to what's happening in the tumor,” explained Sharma. “That helps us plan better trials for these women.”

Sharma began the project six years ago, with each woman’s permission, to collect data and do tests that could help find better, more tailored cures.

“So down the line we are more personalized and being able to say, ‘This chemotherapy is for you but this isn't for you. For you we ought to look at something different,’” said Sharma.

McGuire is part of that registry.

She went through platinum chemotherapy, an emergent type of chemotherapy that research, some of it involving the registry, suggested might work better for her.

She had both breasts removed. She had her share of low energy days but never lost her will to survive.

She kept a journal where she put down in pen what she willed to be true.

“The cancer will not spread. I will get through this. I will have another baby and live a long and healthy life with my two kids and Bryan,” she wrote.

In a single day, she would repeat those three sentences again and again like a positive thinking version the child of yesteryear forced to write on a blackboard that she will not talk in class.

“I would write it down every day because I had to think that way or else I would just, I couldn't let my mind go anywhere else,” said McGuire.

Soon after a trip to Italy to celebrate one year cancer-free, the rest of that mantra came true. She was pregnant with her second child, Freddie.

“I can't believe how lucky I am that I have Freddie,” said McGuire. “It was just like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe get to do this again!’”

Freddie is now 10 months old.

McGuire never questioned whether to give a piece of her medical history to the registry. If it meant just a chance that more women could have their cancer story end like hers, it was a no-brainer.

“If there's something here that can be unlocked that can help us, then I would absolutely want to be a part of it,” said McGuire.

“We want to cure rates to improve,” Sharma echoed. “70 percent of women with this subtype are cured but 30 percent are not and we want that number to be 100 someday.”

Sharma says getting good research results from the registry requires that she continue to get more samples from more women.

“It's hard because it's a smaller subtype and within that there are going to be smaller sub-subtypes,” said Sharma. “And to study it very well in laboratory and then translate it to patients requires a lot of effort and resources and a lot of patients to make a good understanding of it.”

Although the research is taking place at KU Med, there are more hospitals than just the University of Kansas Health Systems participating. Below is a list:

  • All KU Cancer Center, KU Health System and KU Medical Center-affiliated locations
  • Truman Medical Center
  • Menorah Medical Center
  • Olathe Medical Center
  • Hays Medical Center
  • Salina Regional Health Center
  • Topeka’s Stormont-Vail Hospital is planning to join in the registry in mid-May.

If you need more information about clinical trials and/or triple negative breast cancer or want a second opinion call 913-588-1227 or visit www.kucancercenter.org.

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