Anita Shangvi of North Palm Beach received devastating news in 2017. Her advanced breast cancer wasn’t responding to treatment. She was told it was time to consider hospice.
More than a year later however, she’s still here. “I’m back in the game and infused with optimism,” Shangvi says.
What happened? Shangvi got a second opinion from Dr. Charles Vogel, an oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System. When Dr. Vogel met Shangvi, “Her breathing was so bad we had to radiate her chest to even give her a chance at other chemotherapies. After trying a few chemotherapies, we had her tumor tested for next generation sequencing leading to possible eligibility for immunotherapy.”
Dr. Vogel is referring to genomic testing to find a potential experimental treatment match for Shangvi’s tumor. The test is required to participate in an innovative study called Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry (TAPUR). Sponsored by the American Society for Clinical Oncology, the TAPUR Study is for patients with advanced solid tumors that no longer respond to treatment. These patients have various cancers including breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and head and neck. There are more than 100 TAPUR Study sites in 20 states. Sylvester is currently the only site in Florida where this clinical trial is available. Dr. Carmen Calfa, a breast medical oncologist, is the principal investigator at Sylvester.
Shangvi qualified for the study. Every three weeks, she goes to Sylvester’s Deerfield Beach location for an infusion of an investigational therapy that is FDA-approved for other types of cancer but not for breast cancer.
The science behind the success
“What we’re doing in TAPUR is matching the patient’s tumor mutation with the drug that has FDA approval for another cancer type. It no longer matters what the site of the origin of the cancer is or what kind of cancer people have, it’s what drives that cancer growth, what mutation that cancer has,” explains Dr. Calfa.
Shangvi felt a difference after just three treatments. “I had a node in my neck you could feel. It has gone away since I started.” While she experiences fatigue a few days after treatment, on other days she feels good enough to take an hour-long walk.
Dr. Calfa is excited that patients whose previous standard treatments have failed them are responding so well to targeted agents. “We are making a lot of progress and I’m really encouraged by it. The fact that we have this study available for our patients is bringing not only hope but potentially amazing responses. It could be a game changer for many patients.”
Shangvi is pleased with her results and grateful for the conscientious care she receives at Sylvester as a participant in a clinical trial. “Two different groups monitor you every step of the way. They look at the bloodwork very closely and ask me how I feel. Nobody is saying ‘Take this drug and come back in a month.’ They are there with me. It’s an entire support system and that makes a difference.”
Shangvi urges other cancer patients to investigate every option. “Get a physician who is vested in you and your life, who is on top of his game, knows the studies that are out there and explains them to you.”