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Fighting Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Triple negative breast cancer. For the nearly 27,000 women a year in the United States, it’s a tough diagnosis to get.

Triple negative breast cancer is the most deadly form of breast cancer, with fast-growing tumors that disproportionately affect younger and African-American women, and is insensitive to some of the most effective therapies currently available.

That’s why Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals continue to focus on developing better treatment options for these women.

Researchers at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson are investigating new targeted therapies and discovering genetic markers and clinical trials that could ultimately guide patients and their physicians to develop a more precise plan of attack against triple negative cancers.

Today, there are no targeted therapies to treat triple negative patients, and as a result, these women all receive the same treatment regimen. The disease is treatable, especially when caught early, but like with any cancer, we can do better.

“This is about female personalized medicine,” says Agnieszka Witkiewicz, MD, Associate Professor of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology at Jefferson Medical College (JMC) at TJU. “So we’re taking important steps to better direct treatment.”

One clinical trial set to start this fall is looking at a class of drugs that’s found success in treating other breast cancers. Patients will be given chemotherapy combined with the drug called a PARP inhibitor before they have surgery, so-called neoadjuvant therapy.

“Our hope is that women with triple negative breast cancers will better respond to treatment if they are taking chemo plus a PARP inhibitor, which is aimed at the defective DNA repair mechanism of these cancers,” says Adam Berger, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery, JMC, and a surgical oncologist at the Jefferson Breast Care Center.  “With better response to the treatment, women will have more shrinkage of the tumors and a better prognosis from the cancer.”

You can check out a YouTube video of Dr. Berger discussing that clinical trial at

Another clinical trial at Jefferson that is currently recruiting patients is investigating the tumor suppressor gene retinoblastoma (RB), typically associated with an eye cancer predominantly diagnosed in children.

Researchers previously found that women with triple negative breast cancer being treated with chemotherapy who didn’t have the RB gene had a significantly better response to it. This prompted a clinical trial at Jefferson to validate those findings and determine how they can be applied to clinical practice for patients.

Dr. Iozzo and his team may have uncovered a promising weapon to stop triple negative breast cancer from metastasizing: a natural substance known as decorin, found in the surrounding tissue of a tumor.

Article by Steve Graff. Thomas Jefferson Hospital was a 2012 sponsor of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.