Your Health: A new drug for metastatic breast cancer

Doctors now have a new drug for women with metastatic breast cancer when nothing else has worked.
Doctors now have a new drug for women with metastatic breast cancer when nothing else has worked.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 3:30 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Cancer can come back months, or even years, after a woman’s original diagnosis, and thirty percent of women, who are treated successfully for early-stage breast cancer, have it recur. Doctors now have a new drug for women with metastatic breast cancer when nothing else has worked.

Martica “Tica” Hall, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, bought a designer jacket for a very special occasion, one that she thought she might not live to see. Hall survived breast cancer in 2010 – she calls it her medical speed bump.

“I went back to work and was at my job and living my life,” she says.

But three years ago, she was on a Zoom call and couldn’t stop coughing. It wasn’t COVID-19 - the cancer was back. “My son was a freshman in college at the time,” she recalls. “The first thing I thought of is, ‘I’m not going to see Gabriel graduate.’ I knew I wasn’t going to be there. And that is the only thing that makes me cry or get misty-eyed, is not being there for my son.”

Chemotherapy kept the cancer from growing, but then on a visit with her son, she felt a sudden pain in her abdomen. Cancer had spread to her liver.

“I was decompensating medically, getting worse every day,” she says. “I was in the hospital, you’re supposed to be getting better, but I was getting worse. They said, ‘Two choices, you can stay here, but you’re not going to leave the hospital alive. Or you can go home.’”

Hall went home to die. Family and friends flocked to Pittsburgh to say goodbye. She gave away her clothes, designed an urn, then had a service.

“It felt sort of like being at your own funeral because people were saying such nice things. It was really wonderful,” she says. “I know that sounds really odd, but it was so life-affirming.”

Doctors gave her less than a month to live, but then, something happened that amazed her friends and family.

“‘Tica looks better, and you’re not supposed to look better as you approach death.’”

Hall called her long-time oncologist at UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital, Dr. Adam Brufsky, who found one last option. In the few weeks she had been home, a new drug had become available for women with her-two metastatic breast cancer, called Enhertu.

“It delivers the chemotherapy directly to the cancer cells that express HER2 anywhere in the body,” Dr. Brufsky explains.

Hall gets an infusion of Enhertu every three weeks. For now, it’s keeping the cancer under control.

“I don’t think of as a battle, I don’t,” Hall said. “I’m not fighting. I’m thriving. I’m living. I’m on a journey.”

A journey that will take her to Brunswick, Maine this may, wearing her new suit for Gabriel’s graduation.

“Looks like I’ll be there.”

Enhertu is not a cure, but Dr. Brufsky calls it a game-changer. Women on Enhertu survive an average of more than two years on the drug, and their quality of life is good during that time.

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