PARP inhibitor treatment giving new hope to breast cancer patients

Benita Zahn
Created: October 17, 2019 07:12 PM

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. That's 12-percent of all women. One percent of all men will also get that diagnosis. If they have a mutation of the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes, their cancer can be difficult to treat.

Enter a newer type of drug known as a PARP inhibitor.


"Sometimes, I feel like I'm living a dream," said Andrea Burch.

Probably not what you'd expect to hear from a woman diagnosed twice with breast cancer, but that's because she's feeling good these days.

In 2012, while nursing her youngest of four daughters, Burch noticed a rash on her breast.

"It was puckered and it grew and then it turned into like an orange peel kind of type of rash," she explained.

They were classic symptoms of the rare inflammatory breast cancer. In essence, the breast is the tumor.

She underwent chemo, radiation, bilateral mastectomy and a hysterectomy.

With a mom and sister who've had breast cancer and the BRCA1 and 2 genetic mutation which raises the risk of breast and other cancers - her treatment had to be aggressive.

"Then last December, I found out that I had cancer again," said Burch.

It was a different type this time.

Two different types of chemo didn't shrink the tumor. So her oncologist turned to a new type of drug called a PARP inhibitor.

"When you have a BRCA mutation, you are talking about an abnormality in a gene that normally repairs sick cells," said Dr. Maria Theodoulou, an oncologist at NYOH. "PARP is an enzyme that is overproduced in these mutational cancers like BRCA1 and BRCA2 and there's an overabundance of it, and they will go in and help that abnormal cell that forms, continue to replicate and multiply and cause a tumor, so a PARP inhibitor is a drug that actually goes in and inhibits that enzyme, and by inhibiting that enzyme, these cells can't reproduce themselves."

"They will have a natural cell death," explained Theodoulou.

While a PARP inhibitor can improve outcomes, it's not 100-percent effective.

For now, Andrea says she's feeling good. Her tumors are shrinking and her tumor markers are going down.

"My goal has always been to do whatever it takes to stay alive," she said.

PARP inhibitors have been available for about a year. As for Andrea, she says it's important to find happiness in every day.

She'll be joining the hundreds of other folks this Sunday, October 20 for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. It's at Albany's Washington Park. Registration starts at 10 a.m. and the walk begins at noon.

Benita Zahn is one of the emcees and NewsChannel 13 is a longtime sponsor.

Money raised at the walk goes to the American Cancer Society to fund research and clinical trials specific to breast cancer as well as services for people going through treatment.

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