HER2 positive cancers are aggressive, but the good news is many can be treated with targeted therapies. The bad news, those drugs can hurt the heart. Now, researchers have found a way to successfully treat HER2 positive cancer and protect patients from heart failure.
65-year old Nanci Young loves puzzles. Like her hobby, her journey to good health has also required patience and trial and error. Young is a four-time breast cancer survivor. She's been living with HER2 metastatic breast cancer since 2002.
"I say that proudly, I do. Because I know so many women who are not here. And for some reason, I am," said Young.
Doctors put her on Herceptin. It knocked her cancer into remission. But then Young showed signs of heart failure and had to quit the cancer drug.
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Young said, "I knew the cancer was going to come back. I knew it."
And it did. Ana Barac, MD, PhD, Cardio Oncologist at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute is a cardiologist who specializes in the treatment of cancer patients. She launched the SafeHeart trial, enrolling women with abnormal cardiac function and HER2 positive cancer.
Dr. Barac asked, "Can we prevent further worsening of heart function and at the same time complete treatment for breast cancer?"
Dr. Barac treated the patients with beta blockers and ace inhibitors, recommended drugs for heart failure and also had them stay on targeted therapies. Almost all were able to continue cancer treatment safely including Young.
Young said, "We can't let women die because they can't take Herceptin. We gotta do better for them."
Young remains cancer-free but will have to stay on targeted therapies for the rest of her life. Dr. Barac says all of the women in the SafeHeart trial with the exception of three were able to remain on their cancer therapies safely during the trial.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.