HOSPITAL patients in Sheffield are helping the fight against breast cancer – by taking part in an advanced new clinical trial which targets a particularly aggressive form of the disease.
Weston Park Hospital has been chosen to take part in a pioneering study of a new drug which, if successful, could help thousands of people recover from breast cancer.
Professor Rob Coleman, an oncologist, said the treatment has so far shown promising results – adding the drug was an ‘incredibly exciting development’.
The drug, called TDM-1, is designed to treat patients with HER2 positive breast cancer, which can spread more quickly than other types of the illness.
One of the patients who has signed up for the trial is grandmother Rosalind Ryalls, from Norwood, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago.
Following the diagnosis, she underwent a double mastectomy and was also given chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
She then made a good recovery – but just before her five-year check-up noticed lumps on her neck and was given the devastating news that the cancer had returned.
“It was obviously distressing, but I knew I was in the hands of experts at Weston Park and that was reassuring,” says Rosalind, a retired secretary with two grown-up sons and two teenage grandchildren.
She underwent further chemotherapy and was put on a number of different cancer drugs, but none proved successful.
At the start of this year, Rosalind was told about the trial and decided to put herself forward.
“When I heard about the clinical trial I wanted to know more, because I was at a stage where my current treatment wasn’t working, and I was willing to try something different,” she says.
“I hope it will be effective for me. The trials are really important to make sure people can have the best treatments now and in the future.”
Rosalind says she is already ‘feeling the benefits’ of the medication, and hopes to regain enough energy to enjoy day-to-day activities, such as walking and shopping.
The trial involves combining a drug called trastuzumab, commonly known as Herceptin, with a strong chemotherapy treatment.
The trastuzumab then delivers the chemotherapy to the cancer cells, which are killed without damaging normal tissue.
Prof Coleman says: “The early indications are promising and, if it continues to be as effective as the trials are showing, it could ultimately replace Herceptin and standard chemotherapy as the main treatment option for this type of cancer.”
The chances of surviving breast cancer have nearly doubled in the last 20 years.
In 1992, just five out of 10 patients overcame the disease, but now more than eight out of 10 can make a full recovery.
“The huge rise in survival rates over the years is testament to a number of factors, including increased awareness, therefore earlier diagnosis, and, especially, better treatments,” says Prof Coleman.
“Clinical trials have undoubtedly played a vital part in these advancements. This latest trial is an incredibly exciting development.”
Experts believe trials, such as the one being carried out at Weston Park, are a key part of delivering improved treatments for breast cancer in the future.
Prof Coleman says: “What’s also important is treatments are becoming more and more sophisticated, which is vital to ensure treatments continue to progress.”
Weston Park has recruited three patients to the TDM-1 trial, which will involve 20 people in the UK from six hospitals.
Experts will assess the results by monitoring patients over the next two years. On average, it takes between five and 10 years for a new drug to pass through the various trial stages before being offered as a mainstream treatment on the NHS.
Prof Coleman says residents in South Yorkshire should support the clinical trials by getting behind a charity appeal currently being run at Weston Park, one of only four specialist cancer hospitals in the UK.
The £1.3 million Do Your Bit campaign aims to create a new, world-class cancer suite, which would offer up-to-date therapies and increase by threefold the hospital’s research activity.
Prof Coleman says: “The cancer charity is the cornerstone of everything that we have done at our current research centre and its support has been vital to ensure that our national and international research success can continue. The new research and treatment facilities will be able to offer more trials and more novel treatments.”
To support the appeal, visit www.do-your-bit.org.uk or call the Weston Park Cancer Charity on 0114 226 5370.