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Experimental drug helps fight advanced breast cancer

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ATLANTA -

Ann Wertz has stared down cancer not once, but three times – and she's only 54. But for the last two years, Wertz has helped test a new drug that may be a breakthrough for women with advanced breast cancer.

After they lost their two cats, Ann Wertz's dog-loving husband Steve recently surprised her with two Siberian kittens.      

"They're like dogs! They fetch, they turn over and they like their bellies scratched," Ann Wertz said.

It's a sweet moment in a hard-fought eight years.

In 2005, the Atlanta mother of two was diagnosed out of the blue with breast cancer. Ann went through a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She and Steve shaved their heads, before the hardcore chemo made Ann's hair fall out. But, three years later, the cancer came back, this time with a vengeance.

"It had spread to my bones, all over, to my liver, to the lymph nodes around my kidneys, and in my chest wall," Ann Wertz said.

Ann has tried more cancer drugs than she can count. Two years ago, she found Kadcyla, a first-of-its-kind "targeted" breast cancer drug. She volunteered to test it in a clinical trial for women with advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer, which is about 7.5 percent of all breast cancer patients.

Dr. Robert Hermann, director of clinical trials at Northwest Georgia Oncology, says most traditional chemo is like dropping a huge bomb on the whole body:  it can damage both the cancer and the healthy cells,  But Kadcyla is like a missile, targeted directly into the tumor cells.
   
"Rather than seek-and-destroy, it's target-and-control," Hermann said. "It internalizes and therefore doesn't leak into the blood stream where it can cause other side effects, so the side effects have really been very minimal."  

For Ann, the drug worked.

"And my next CT scan afterwards showed cancer-free," said Ann Wertz.

She never experienced any nasty side effects.

"I didn't lose my hair, I didn't have mouth sores," she said.

Kadcyla is not a cure. In this study, it bought women with advanced cancer like Ann, on average, about six more months of survival. Ann is at two years and counting, grateful that more women can now try this drug she helped test.

"And I hope it will work as well for them as it has for me," she said.

Kadcyla got FDA approval in late February.

Finding new treatments like this become a mission for Ann and Steve.

Last spring, Ann was diagnosed with brain cancer, which Kadcyla is not designed to treat.

She's taking it day by day and says she's doing really well.

To read more about Ann Wertz's story, or learn more about Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers, go to http://www.ngoc.com/

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