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Martha Jefferson Healthwise: Targeted Breast Cancer Therapy

April 4, 2013

Doctors in Charlottesville are hoping to expand breast cancer treatment methods by taking part in a new medical study.

When you think about cancer treatment, chemotherapy probably comes to mind.

But doctors at Martha Jefferson Hospital are also using another method called Targeted Breast Cancer Therapy.

The therapy only targets cancerous cells, unlike chemotherapy, which impacts all cells in the body.

A patient's breast cancer will be tested for sensitivity to estrogen or progesterone, and for too much growth protein called Human Epidural Growth Factor Receptor, also known as HER-2.

A pathologist will be able to figure that out based on looking at tissue under a microscope. An oncologist will then be able to target treatments based on results from that test.

"If the cancer cells have a sensitivity to estrogen or progesterone, then we will offer that patient medications that will block those hormones," said Dr. Erika Struble. "If the cancer cells have an extra sensitivity to the growth protein then we can offer treatments that can block this protein. Treatments that block the growth protein or the her-2 protein have really improved the outcome of patients."

Now, Martha Jefferson is participating in a nationwide clinical study to determine if this option can be expanded to more types of patients.

"These medications have shown great benefits for patients that are eligible for them," said Dr. Struble. "So in that goal we're activity doing research to see if patients that express less of that sensitivity, whether they're going to benefit as well."

Dr. Struble says, many times the targeted therapies are offered in conjunction with standard therapy, and all treatment is tailored to the patient based on that patient.

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