New pilot study at Scottsdale Healthcare gives cancer patients hope

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For the past seven years, Julie Kerbaugh has battled breast cancer, a diagnosis that came out of left field.

“I had just retired,” Kerbaugh said. “I thought, 'I’m not going to miss my retirement! No, I’m not ready for this.'”

Since 2006, Kerbaugh has undergone eight or nine different chemotherapy treatments. Not only did the treatments not work, but her cancer spread.

But one year ago, her doctor told her about a new pilot study led by Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center.

“At this point, I was willing to try anything,” Kerbaugh said. “I thought, 'What do I have to lose?'”

Kerbaugh was one of 25 patients with advanced breast cancer to take part in the Side-Out study.

Researchers started by taking a biopsy of the patients’ tumors and analyzing them in two different labs.

“They did two different types of analyses looking at protein abnormalities within cancer cells,” said Gayle Jameson, a nurse practitioner and the lead investigator on the study.

Based on the results of the biopsies, researchers selected specific medications and personalized treatment plans.

“A drug that works for one patient may not work for the next 10,” explained Jameson.

However, targeted therapy based on molecular profiling has worked in Kerbaugh’s case.

“Steadily over the last year, it’s gone from a problem to no evidence of disease,” Kerbaugh said. “I didn’t think I’d ever hear that.”

Jameson said the pilot study exceeded expectations with 52 percent of patients benefiting.

“Having a real-time biopsy, getting that information and then selecting a treatment that we think is the best … we believe is the way of the future in treating not only breast cancer but many other cancers,” Jameson said.

It’s research that gives patients and their families hope. Kerbaugh longs to get back to life before cancer.

“I had a lot of things I wanted to do,” she said. “I’m just getting back into it now.”

Due to the success of this first pilot study, a second study will be launched, which is expected to involve more patients.

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