National Cancer Research Month draws attention to the many important ways cancer research improves patients’ lives.
At the University of Chicago, our research helps healthcare professionals around the country — and around the world — to treat cancer more effectively, a disease as diverse as it is complex.
To accomplish this, we use clinical trials that are designed to transform laboratory discoveries into improved therapies. Clinical trials are essential to advancing treatment of cancer and other diseases, plus they offer patients access to new therapies.
We continue our focus on cancer research with a story about Kiran Bal, a young woman whose cancer was treated through a clinical trial.
Kiran was only 32 when she found a lump in one of her breasts.
Alarmed, she went to a Chicago hospital for tests. At first, she was told not to worry because she is young with no family history of cancer. However, when the test results returned positive for breast cancer, Kiran was terrified.
Her experience changed when she came to the UCCCC for a second opinion, and got her test results back the same night.
The experts there knew that Kiran’s particular form of breast cancer, called triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), is rare and aggressive. Triple-negative means her cancer cells did not have receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone, nor did they have receptors for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or HER2.
Each of these receptors can be targets for cancer drugs, but the lack of them requires a different approach.
Her oncologists wanted to put a plan in place quickly, while the cancer was still treatable.
Kiran’s health care team worked together to identify her treatment options—one of which was for a clinical trial specifically tailored for patients with TNBC.
The clinical trial’s purpose was to determine if adding extra therapy to standard chemotherapy can improve the rate of patients who have little to no cancer left at the time of surgery as a result of their pre-surgery treatment. These patients tend to have the most successful outcomes.
Kiran was randomized into a group that received bevacizumab (trade name Avastin) along with standard chemotherapy.
Avastin is an angiogenesis inhibitor that is intended to prevent the growth or production of new blood vessels that feed the tumor and allow it to spread in the body. The clinical trial has since closed, but the results are not yet published.
Kiran underwent five months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, six weeks of radiation therapy, followed by reconstruction.
After only the third chemotherapy treatment, Kiran’s 5-centimeter tumor was no longer palpable. After she finished all chemotherapy, an imaging scan showed no evidence of disease.
Next year will be her five-year survival mark, a significant milestone for TNBC.
Kiran said her team of doctors remained in close contact throughout her treatment, calling her personally and helping manage the side effects of the treatment by staying a step ahead of them.
“Keeping your state-of-mind happy and healthy is a big part of the cure,” she said. “The UCCCC brings that peace of mind.”
Read Kiran’s entire story in the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center’s annual report.