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New Treatment Shows Promise For Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Patients

(KPIX 5) -- A clinical trial has discovered a first-of-its-kind treatment for one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer which has proven to extend survival rates.

Women with what is known as triple-negative breast cancer have some of the lowest survival rates of breast cancer patients.

Ten to 20 percent of breast cancers are triple negative, meaning they don't have receptors sensitive to estrogen, progesterone and lack the protein called HER2 which is the target of treatment. This makes survival rates extremely low, since the cancer doesn't respond to hormonal therapy or therapies targeting HER2 receptors.

At age 39, Mirabel Ramos found out she had triple-negative breast cancer. "I was angry and sad because I know that the triple negative is a type of cancer that is really hard to treat," said Ramos.

So in 2016, Ramos entered a clinical trial that combines immunotherapy with chemotherapy. For patients who had a marker called PD-L1 on their cancer cells the results were significant. It extended their survival by 10 months.

"The fact that there's a study showing women with triple-negative breast cancer have some benefit from this combination treatment, that's always good news. I'd like better news," said Joyce Bichler, Deputy Director of Breast Cancer Action.

Bichler says this study is a good start, but she worries about how cost-prohibitive the treatment is at more than $100,000 dollars a year. She wants to see more work on prevention.

"We want to see fewer women get breast cancer and fewer women die of the disease," said Bichler.

For Ramos, the treatment is a lifesaver. She received the active drug and for the first time her scan shows no sign of cancer.

"The tumor was getting smaller," said Ramos. "So every time, every four weeks it was getting smaller and smaller and I was so excited."

Locally the University of California, San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente were both involved in this study, as were eight California patients.

Genentech funded the study and is now seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

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