Personalized Medicine Proves Hopeful for Targeted Breast Cancer Treatment

By Tami Boehmer

(Tami Boehmer will be an Honored Guest at The Pink Fund’s Crazy Sexy Luncheon, October 1st, featuring author, Wellness Warrior and Cancer SurThrivor Kris Carr!)

I was browsing through Twitter and was intrigued by Forbes article someone shared: A Dying Patient’s Plea for Personalized Medicine (http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlangreth/2011/02/10/a-dying-cancer-patients-plea-for-personalized-medicine/) . It was a bit unsettling to read, not just because she’s dying; but also for its portrayal of how the drug industry’s thirst for profits is blocking potentially life-saving treatments.

So I did a little research, and the first thing I saw was a promising article about an initiative taking place where I see my oncologist: Indiana University Simon Cancer Center. The University announced it was forming the Indiana Institute for Personalized Medicine, funded by a $60 million endowment from the Lilly Foundation (yes, a drug manufacturer) and more than $11 million from the school of medicine. This represents a huge commitment to personalized medicine, which looks at genetic differences in patients to determine the right treatment.

For years, cancer patients have benefitted on some level from personalized medicine. For breast cancer, doctors can test tumors to determine if a hormone treatment or Herceptin (for HER2 nu status) will be effective. But most of the time, treatment is prescribed using a standard, one-size-fits-all protocol. People like me, whose hormone treatments have stopped working, find themselves back on the chemo wheel, hoping the next treatment will work.

There are several studies I’ve come across that identify possible genetic markers that could lead to exciting drugs targeting them. So I’m hopeful that initiatives like this will help speed the process along.

Another exciting avenue is the area of breast cancer vaccine research. Last year, I was honored to be chosen as one of eight finalists nationwide for Bright Starts Pink Power Mom awards (www.pinkpowermom.com). In addition to be showered with attention, gifts and fabulous weekend, each finalist received $5,000 to the charity of their choice. I chose to donate to Dr. Vincent Tuohy’s breast cancer vaccine at The Cleveland Clinic after hearing his interview on NPR Science Friday.  His goal is to prevent cancer, much like the polio vaccine prevented the once terrifying disease.  My daughter, now 12, came to mind.

To my surprise, Dr. Tuohy called me to personally thank me for the gift. He explained the challenges of getting treatments to clinical trial stage. It takes a lot money, time and connections, and so far, he has experienced so many roadblocks.  There are several interesting articles about his work. Here’s one of them: http://www.cleveland.com/medical/index.ssf/2010/05/cleveland_clinic_research_offe.html.

On Oct. 7 (noon to 1 p.m.), I will be at the Joseph Beth Booksellers in The Cleveland Clinic to talk about my book and share my story. I’ve invited Dr. Tuohy to share an update about his vaccine in hopes it will help attract more attention to the amazing work he is doing.  I’d love to see you there!

Tami Boehmer is a metastatic breast cancer survivor, speaker, blogger and author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. You can visit her at www.MiracleSurvivors.com.

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