Leading the way: Community Cancer Center at the forefront of breast cancer research

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, has called this a “remarkable moment” in cancer research. Scientists are more knowledgeable than ever about how cancer starts, how it spreads and how to combat it.

The Community Cancer Center works collaboratively with Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa (PCI) Hematology and Oncology to bring research studies to cancer patients in our community. Clinical trials, like those available right here in our community, are helping scientists develop new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

One local patient recently became the first in North America to participate in a clinical trial aimed at improving treatment for metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the bones. The trial involves the use of Radium 223, or Xofigo®. In 2013, the FDA approved the use of Radium 223 to treat prostate cancer that has spread to bones and is resistant to medical or surgical treatments that lower testosterone. Now Radium 223’s use in breast cancer treatment is being investigated.

Rasa Buntinas, MD, an oncologist with Physician’s Clinic of Iowa (PCI), monitors patients throughout the study.

Rasa Buntinas, MD, an oncologist with Physician’s Clinic of Iowa (PCI), monitors patients throughout the study.

In this trial, patients are randomly assigned to receive either Radium 223 or a placebo—an inactive substance that looks like the drug. Because it is a “double-blind” study, neither the patient nor the doctor will know which substance the patient receives. PCI Oncologists William Fusselman, MD, Rasa Buntinas, MD, and Bharat Jengiri, MD, are the principal cooperators in the study. Dr. Buntinas will closely monitor the patient’s health and well-being throughout the therapy.

“To participate in a clinical trial, the patient has to meet specific guidelines for eligibility,” explains Kristin Sperfslage, study coordinator for the Community Cancer Center. “In this case, the patient did not respond to standard breast cancer therapies and she met the other requirements.” More than 200 patients world-wide are expected to participate in the study, which is estimated to be completed in May 2017.

“One benefit of clinical trials is patients may get access to treatments before they are available to the general public,” says Dr. Buntinas. In addition, patients can help others by adding to our knowledge about cancer care. That’s one reason why the local patient decided to participate in the Radium 223 trial. “We’ve made a lot of progress in fighting cancer,” she says, “but we need more. I’m hoping if this trial doesn’t help me, it will help someone else.”

On average, the Community Cancer Center has 15 different clinical trials available at any given time. That number has recently grown as clinical trials are now available at St. Luke’s Nassif Radiation Center. Trials may offer new investigational drugs, compare the benefits of one drug over another, or focus on improving quality of life for cancer patients by decreasing treatment-related side effects. Participation in a clinical trial is always voluntary and patients may leave at any time.

For more information on clinical trial options, talk to your doctor or call the Community Cancer Center at (319) 558-4876 and ask to speak to a research coordinator.

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