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Sharp Health News

For people with advanced cancer, clinical trials may help

May 13, 2019

For people with advanced cancer, clinical trials may help

Patricia Martinez (right), with her sister-in-law, Martha.

Every day has the potential to change the course of one’s life forever. For Patricia Martinez, that day came on Feb. 5, 2015, when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. That diagnosis was later changed to stage 4 when a CT scan and MRI found another tumor — this time on her spine.

“I remember being diagnosed right around my birthday, and everything moved so quickly after that,” she says. “There was a lot of testing required — chemotherapy for almost a year to shrink the tumors, then radiation and surgery for a double mastectomy.”

Soon after treatment finished, Martinez received another CT scan and learned of an additional tumor, now in her liver. Her team at the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center reacted quickly with a treatment plan specifically tailored for Martinez to address this aggressive disease.

Clinical trials offer hope for patients with advanced cancer
“When we found the third tumor, my doctor suggested we look into clinical trials,” Martinez says. “I went through two different trials, one that didn’t work for me and one that had such significant side effects, I had to withdraw.”

However, Martinez and her team of specialists weren’t giving up, including Dr. Marilyn Norton, oncologist hematologist at the Barnhart Cancer Center, and Thea Fowler, clinical trials specialist with Sharp HealthCare’s Oncology Research Program.

When a third clinical trial became available, they all decided it was in Martinez’s best interest to try it — and it’s working.

“For patients in clinical trials, radiologists use CT or MRI scans to detect the amount of disease and measure each lesion,” says Fowler. “That information is used to formulate the appropriate therapy. If a person experiences tumor shrinkage greater than 30%, research considers this a partial response. In Patricia’s case, the tumor in her liver shrank by more than half.”

The Oncology Research Program at Sharp offers more than 20 clinical trials at any time to treat most tumor types, which provides an opportunity for patients to participate in trials that may not have otherwise been available, as many of them are conducted outside of San Diego. It is the only institution in San Diego to be accredited by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs.

Current patients help bring treatment options to future patients
“It’s important to offer clinical trials in cancer care as they help bring new treatment options to all individuals diagnosed with cancer,” says Dr. Norton. “In some cases, these trials are the only method of treatment when all other standard therapies have failed. By involving patients in our research, we’re able to bring much-needed treatment options into circulation to help more people with cancer.”

Patients involved in a clinical trial at Sharp can expect to be closely monitored and observed by research coordinators and doctors like Fowler and Dr. Norton, who complement their knowledge and skill in cancer care with the unique level of care offered at the Cancer Centers of Sharp.

While this third clinical trial has given Martinez a new lease on life, it also requires chemotherapy every three weeks.

“One Tuesday a month, my sister-in-law, Martha, and I go to my chemo appointments. They last six hours, so I’m grateful to have her come with me and keep me company,” says Martinez. “Martha’s a mother figure for me and my rock. She’s my godmother; I grew up with her and lived with her and my brother as a child.”

Family plays a vital role in Martinez’s treatment plan, and her children and grandchildren are a source of hope during her journey. She’s a mother of three and grandmother of four.

“They’re my happiness,” she says. “It’s so important to stay positive during this whole process and my family gives me that. I want to be there for my grandbabies, and I’m going to enjoy life every single day.”

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