Friday Frontline: Two Sisters Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Participate in Proton Therapy Trial, Artificial Intelligence Being Investigated to Assist with Radiotherapy Treatments and More

October 30, 2020
Conor Killmurray

Two sisters diagnosed with the same stage of breast cancer in the same spot three weeks apart take part in proton therapy trial, Mayo Clinic and Google Health partner to investigate the use of artificial intelligence in assisting with radiotherapy treatments and more from the weekly roundup of news and research happening in the cancer landscape.

Two sisters diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks apart take part in proton therapy trial.

Lauren Kennedy just turned 29 when she found a lump that led to her stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, shortly after her older sister, Jennifer Adams, received the same diagnosis. Both women underwent chemotherapy followed by surgery, but instead of receiving standard of care radiation therapy, they were candidates for cutting edge proton therapy.

Traditionally used for pediatric patients with cancer and brain cancer, proton therapy has been increasingly used for the treatment of some patients with breast cancer in recent years.

“Overall, the radiation with protons spares the normal tissue considerably,” Orlando Health radiation oncologist Dr. Patrick Kelly explained in an interview. Kelly treated both sisters with proton therapy and was able to target their specific tumor sites without the radiation washing over to other parts of the body.

Now both in remission, the sisters wanted to share their story and cutting-edge treatment, as Kelly hopes proton therapy can be further expanded into other cancer treatments.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Spina Bifida Awareness Month. Two diseases that one mother with triple-negative breast cancer is trying to raise awareness for at the same time.

Melissa Tagle was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer back in July, but her daughter Makenna was born with Spina Bifida, a disease that has left the three-year-old paralyzed below the knee. The two teamed up with makeup artist Jen McNally-Burks and hair stylist Ceelie Hetzel for a photoshoot to help raise awareness for their story and a wider local charity event for the family.

“It was so sweet how many times Makenna, she’s only three years old, told her mom how beautiful she was. ‘You look so pretty; you look so pretty.’ And she just, I don’t know, it was so awesome to watch,” said Hetzel. Tagle has been going through chemotherapy through the course of the summer but maintains her fighting spirit with her daughter by her side. Together they want to raise awareness for both diseases and show that, “being different is okay. Suffering is okay.”

Mayo Clinic and Google Health announced a partnership to develop artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate the process of planning radiotherapy treatments for patients with cancer.

The two organizations are looking to build an algorithm that will work to help clinicians distinguish healthy tissue and organs from tumors to decide how best to target radiation therapy. It will also help in research to further deploy the algorithm in the clinic. This is a further collaboration of the 2019 partnership between Google and The Mayo Clinic to deploy cloud computing, AI and machine learning technologies in cancer care.

“While cancer rates continue to rise, the shortage of radiotherapy experts continues to grow as well. Waiting for a radiotherapy treatment plan can be an agonizing experience for cancer patients, and we hope this research will eventually support a faster planning process and potentially help patients to access treatment sooner,” Cian Hughes, informatics lead at Google Health, said in a press release.

A new study has found evidence that cholesterol-lowering stating drugs may help patients with cancer live longer.

Researchers from the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology tracked adherence of statins in over 38,000 Australian women with breast cancer, colorectal cancer or melanoma and found that average adherence to the drug was 82% prior to their cancer diagnosis. For every 10% increase in adherence to statins in the year before their diagnosis, researchers found an 8% reduction in breast cancer and colorectal cancer mortality.

Statins are a class of drugs used to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. In the study, the women were mostly on Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor. According to lead study author, Jia-Li Feng, of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia, the explanation for this connection could be from a “healthy-user effect” as people who consciously adhere to statins are healthier in general, which helps with their cancer survival.

However, while this may provide a better survival chance for women with cancer, more study needs to be down to confirm the connection between statins and cancer.

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