A patient with metastatic breast cancer recalls the emotional experience of being among the thousands of attendees who gave a standing ovation in an auditorium in Chicago when the results of the phase 3 DESTINY-Breast04 trial — which recently led to the FDA approval of Enhertu in HER2-low disease — were presented at the 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting.
Since 2017, Janice Cowden has attended multiple conferences that highlight the latest news and research regarding the treatment of a variety of cancers.
Cowden was diagnosed with stage 1 triple-negative breast cancer 11 years ago and has lived with metastatic breast cancer for six years.
Cowden said she prioritizes going to so many conferences because she not only likes to learn about the latest cancer research, but she also has the opportunity to connect with other patient advocates, researchers and clinicians.
In a recent interview with CURE®, Cowden spoke extensively about what patients can get from attending medical conferences and what it was like to be in Chicago to witness the presentation of the findings from the phase 3 DESTINY-Breast 04 trial, which recently led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve Enhertu in HER2-low metastatic breast cancer.
The results showed that treatment with Enhertu (fam-trastuzumab deruxtecan-nxki) nearly doubled progression-free survival (time during and after treatment when a patient lives without disease progression) in patients with HER2-low, hormone receptor–positive metastatic breast cancer, which is a subtype of breast cancer where the patient has some HER2 proteins on the surface of cancer cells but not as many as patients classified as HER2-positive.
Patients Can Benefit from Attending Medical Conferences
Cowden said that some patients are likely hesitant to attend medical conferences because they may feel as if they don’t belong.
For instance, she explained that some patients wrongly assume that because they don’t have a background in science, that they would not benefit from the educational sessions at conferences.
But Cowden stressed that patients without a science background can still benefit from attending medical conferences. For instance, she noted that there is a community of patients and advocates that they can connect with.
And she explained that there are people like her who use their background — Cowden is a former nurse — to help break down research updates for other patients in an easy-to-understand manner.
Cowden noted that many patients may not have the financial resources to attend medical conferences in-person, but she added that patients can attend virtually.
A “Historic Moment”
Cowden described being in the room in Chicago among the thousands of other attendees where the results of the phase 3 DESTINY-Breast04 study were presented as “the most amazing conference experience (she has) ever had.”
She recalled that her and two other patient advocate friends sat in the auditorium with “tears streaming” down their faces.
“The minute (the presenter) finished presenting the data, the audience all stood up in a standing ovation,” she said. “And to be a part of that moment, I had tears, I had goosebumps, I have never experienced anything like that.”
In fact, she said she realized the results of the study were special when she saw the doctors around her getting excited. Typically, Cowden recalled of her past experiences, oncologists tend be more careful not to express too much excitement around cancer research. But when she looked around and saw everyone standing, she said she knew it was special.
“All these researchers (and) clinicians standing up and applauding, (it) was overwhelming in a great way,” she said.
Cowden said she felt like it was “a historic moment” for patients with breast cancer, which she said was comparable to the 1998 FDA approval of Herceptin.
What made these findings so unique, Cowden continued, is that it crossed over (cancer) subtypes.
“It wasn't just metastatic triple-negative or just hormone-positive that benefited,” she explained. (Enhertu) is benefiting the HER2-positive community. When we start finding drugs that don't (only treat) one subtype and (we) see positive results across subtypes, I think that's landmark.”
Cowden said that she hopes that this is a trend that will be reflected in future breast cancer research.
“I really do believe that that's where we're going with metastatic breast cancer,” she said. “I'm so glad I was there.”
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