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New breast cancer treatments show promise

LAWRENCEVILLE - With 211,000 U.S. women being diagnosed with breast cancer this year and 40,000 expected to die, new clinical trials using targeted therapies conducted by Georgia Cancer Specialists are greatly needed.

Seven new studies are being conducted in only two places in the world at this time - Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala. Doctors are testing a combination of Avastin, which destroys the blood vessels feeding the cancerous tumor, and Femara, an anti-hormone drug, on women age 60 or older who have locally advanced estrogen/progesterone receptor positive breast cancer.

Although Avastin has been used successfully in colon cancer patients, it has never been used for breast cancer, yet already patients still in the early phases of the Avastin/Femara combination treatment have had remarkable results.

Shirley Rowell, a 63-year-old woman from Blairsville discovered a lump in her breast during a self-exam six months ago. After a mammogram confirmed she had breast cancer, she was invited to become part of the study by Dr. Mansoor Saleh, Director of Clinical Research for Georgia Cancer Specialists.

"(Rowell) has had, after 6 weeks, a 65 percent reduction in tumor size," Saleh said. "You can imagine after 18 weeks [the total amount of time she will be receiving the targeted therapy] she would be able to have an even smaller tumor with much less surgery resulting."

Less surgery is only one of the benefits of this unique drug combination. If patients have a smaller tumor going into surgery, less will have to be removed and women can keep as much of their natural breast as possible. Also, with Avastin the same side effects of traditional chemotherapy - loss of hair, nausea and lower blood count - are nonexistent. Side effects may include blood clots and the potential to develop bleeding post surgery.

These side effects haven't stopped Rowell, however.

"The only thing I've seen that it's done to me is that I'm tired," she said. "If you asked anybody I get up at 2:30 a.m. and go to work at 4 a.m. I'm on my feet until 3 or 4 p.m. After I started taking this I had to have someone come in so I could have enough energy."

The study will take a year to complete and five years to reach FDA approval.