Researchers at the OSUCCC – James are launching two clinical trials for patients with an aggressive form of breast cancer that resists treatment.

Breast cancer is not one disease, but rather a set of four or five diseases – each reacting differently to cancer treatment. While breast cancer survival rates have much improved due to advances in targeted therapies, along with chemotherapy and radiation, there is still a need to find solutions to treat one of the most fatal breast cancer subsets, such as “triple negative” breast cancer.

Breast cancer treatments that target hormone receptor positive breast cancer are not effective with triple negative. Consequently, a triple negative breast cancer provides a poor prognosis for those diagnosed, with young women and African American women more likely to develop the disease. It is a relatively rare subset of breast cancer, accounting for about 15 percent of all cases.

Researchers at OSUCCC – James are recruiting patients for two separate triple negative breast cancer treatment trials, combining chemotherapy with agents including PARP inhibitors and gamma secretase inhibitors. The studies, developed and initiated by OSUCCC – James investigators, are funded by the National Cancer Institute.

“We have launched a major research effort coordinated in clinical trials and laboratories devoted to developing novel therapeutics for treating triple negative breast cancer,” says Charles Shapiro, MD, director of Breast Medical Oncology at OSUCCC – James. “Our goal is to find an effective therapy for this difficult-to-treat disease.”

This type of breast cancer is so named because it is negative for the three markers used to determine treatment: the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and HER-2-neu. Patients are said to have triple negative breast cancer when their tumors do not express these hormones.

“For patients with triple negative breast cancer, chemotherapy was, until very recently, the only option,” says Shapiro, who is a leading authority in breast cancer and heads the Spielman Breast Cancer Tissue Archive Services and Spielman Breast Cancer Tumor Bank. “New drugs need to be developed, and the PARP inhibitor is the first of such novel therapeutics that seem to be effective in treating triple negative breast cancer.”

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