Nightly News | December 10, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: Some big headlines this week from a major cancer conference in Texas , including a new treatment for women in the advanced stages of breast cancer , using a drug already on the market to treat kidney and pancreatic cancers. And now there's word of some promising news for women fighting one of the most aggressive forms of the disease. We get the details tonight from our chief science correspondent Robert Bazell .
ROBERT BAZELL reporting: Not only did Rebekah Freedman of Los Angeles have breast cancer , but a particular form of the disease with a protein called HER-2 . It appears in about one in five breast cancers and can make them very aggressive.
Ms. REBEKAH FREEDMAN: Good job. OK.
BAZELL: So Freedman , who is now cancer free, volunteered to take part in a clinical trial to find the best way to treat her cancer, even without knowing what drugs she would get.
Ms. FREEDMAN: It's well worth doing it because, you know, I have this little girl that I want to survive for.
BAZELL: There was already a drug on the market to treat her two breast cancers, an antibody called Herceptin ; but at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this week, news that when Herceptin is combined with a second drug, called pertuzumab, also an antibody infusion, the treatment works far better. Dr. Jose Baselga of Massachusetts General Hospital headed that research.
Dr. JOSE BASELGA: If you bring to the tumor a second antibody that is complimentary, that is working through another mechanism, the two together are way more powerful. And that's the basis for our findings.
BAZELL: The first human studies with the new drug were done even before patients had surgery, so doctors could determine if the initial cancers shrank or disappeared. In some cases, it did.
Dr. BASELGA: You can watch on a daily basis what's happening with the tumor. You can even do sometimes a biopsy and see if the cells are dying or not.
BAZELL: And when the new drug combination was given to women with advanced breast cancer , it allowed them to survive without the tumor progressing for several months longer. Much of the research presented at this conference comes from the understanding that breast cancer is not one disease but many and new treatments need to be tailored to the individual woman. That is the goal and it is improving treatment, but everyone -- scientists, activists, doctors and patients -- hope to see the research move much faster. Robert Bazell , NBC News, San Antonio .