• Bertha Shavers Gardening

Ingalls Treating HER2-Positive Breast Cancer with Targeted Therapies

While breast cancer is often discussed as a “general” condition, in reality, there are several different types of breast cancer — some more lethal than others.

About 25 percent of all breast cancers are HER2-positive (meaning the cancer is fueled by an over-production of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 protein).

“Cancers that have this overexpression are typically larger, spread quickly to lymph nodes, and are often not responsive to hormonal therapy — marking a more aggressive type of breast cancer,” explains James Wallace, M.D., board-certified hematologist/oncologist on staff at Ingalls Memorial Hospital.

Before the late 1990s, women with HER2-positive breast cancer had poorer survival rates. Today, however, as more patients receive targeted therapy, this is no longer the case. “Researchers better understand what fuels HER2-positive breast cancer, and the discovery of targeted therapies has now made a very difficult-to-treat breast cancer one of our most treatable!” Dr. Wallace said.

Bertha Shavers of South Holland was diagnosed with HER2 breast cancer after finding a “pimply bump” on her right breast last summer.

Shavers, a 71-year old mother of two, was due for a mammogram, so the timing was perfect. When her results came back, Bertha was referred to Dr. Wallace, who diagnosed her with Stage IIa breast cancer.

Dr. Wallace shared that when he first met Bertha she was very reluctant to do chemotherapy and was anxious about participating in a clinical trial.

Then he explained that Ingalls, which in 2014 was one of five community hospitals to win a prestigious national award from the Conquer Cancer Foundation for it’s unique participation in over 50 nationally sponsored clinical trials, was participating in a trial sponsored by the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) for women “just like her.”

Dr. Wallace promised Bertha her participation would be closely guarded by a team of expertly trained nurses and physicians dedicated to safety, and after doing some research of her own and consulting with her two adult children, Shavers agreed to participate. “Hormonal therapy given with chemotherapy drugs could shrink a patient’s tumor even more before surgery and might influence our ability to do smaller surgeries, with less side effects, for patients like Ms. Shavers,” Dr. Wallace explained. “Her tumor shrunk by nearly half before surgery, so her response to the treatment has been excellent.”

In fact, she traveled shortly after surgery last December and continues a busy schedule as a Sunday school teacher at her church and as a prison minister for the Department of Corrections.

“I’m doing very well,” she adds. “Every day’s a good day. And I’m so grateful to my doctors at Ingalls. God has blessed me throughout this whole thing.”

As for advice to other women, she adds, “Check your breasts regularly. Check them in the bath or shower. Be vigilant. The body is wonderfully made. It will let you know when it’s breaking down.”

For more information about breast cancer treatment or cancer clinical trials at Ingalls, call 780.915.HOPE (4673).

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