Three years ago at the age of 39, Maribel Ramos was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. The type was triple negative.
“I was angry,” says Maribel. “and sad, because I know that the triple negative is a type of cancer that is really hard to treat.”
Ten to twenty percent of breast cancers are called triple negative because they don’t have receptors, such as ones for estrogen, which can be targeted by certain medications. In 2016, Ramos entered a trial to test the immunotherapy drug, tecentriq on patients with advanced triple negative breast cancer. The drug works by targeting proteins found on immune cells and some cancer cells. Dr. Sylvia Adams of NYU Langone Health says the new drug helps the immune system recognize the cancer.
“So there are killer cells already in the cancer present and ready to fight, except that this cancer shields itself from the immune attack. So this drug is now able to take the shield down and basically paves the way for your own immune response to kill the tumor,” says Dr. Sylvia Adams.
The trial, at hundreds of sites in 41 countries followed 902 patients and found the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy improved overall survival by nearly four months and nearly 10 months for those patients whose tumors tested positive for the targeted protein.
“The tumor was getting smaller,” says Ramos. “So every time, every four weeks, it was getting smaller and smaller and I was so excited.”
At this date, she’s still completely without any evidence of disease. Because it was a controlled study, Ramos didn’t know if she was getting the drug or placebo until just a few weeks ago. But with her scans improving so dramatically, she suspected she was getting the real thing.
The source for this story was Dr. Jon LaPook of CBS News.