New drugs push cancer treatment forward

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More than 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

For most, treatment will put them in remission. But 40,000 women will still die from this terrible disease. 

A drug just approved by the FDA is helping fight breast cancer that has spread and the clinical trial for this drug helped women right here at Moffitt Cancer Center.

"It's shock. It's, 'This can't be happening. What am I going to do?'" Shannon McGiffin said, describing the feeling when told the new and unusual pain in her back was actually breast cancer that had spread. "I was actually diagnosed when they did a biopsy and removed a tumor from my L-4 vertebrae."

That diagnosis started nine years of cancer treatment, trying to keep the metastatic breast cancer from spreading even more.

"We started with the medicines that were now out of the market and we kept going," she recalls.

But eventually, the medicines available on the market stopped working. Shannon's doctor at Moffitt Cancer Center wasn't giving up. Dr. Heather Han got her enrolled in a clinical trial involving this drug along with hormone therapy.

Shannon says, "I got involved with it because it was my last choice before going into the actual chemo. If I could stay out of the traditional blast-your-body-with-everything-it's-got chemo, then I wanted to try it."

Shannon took pills, so the treatment didn't tie her to a hospital room. Dr. Han says the treatment started working.

"Ribociclib, also called Kisqali, slowed down cancer cells' growth by blocking proteins," Dr. Han explained.

She says the hope is to manage metastatic breast cancer like patients manage diabetes.

"The goal of the trial is to improve quality of life, but obviously we want to improve their survivorship and their risk of continued progression by controlling the disease," she said.

Shannon says, "I can honestly say this particular trial saved my life."

She will continue taking the drug, which was recently approved by the FDA, and she says, "There are other treatments and things out there now that didn't exist when I first got this and now with these medicines, or at least the one being approved by the FDA, it can go out and change someone else's prognosis, too."

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