Experimental Treatments

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Despite all the different treatments shown to work for metastatic breast cancer, it is still possible for the cancer to spread. If that's the case, you might want to consider taking an experimental treatment. Experimental (also called "investigational") treatments have not yet been fully tested for the type of breast cancer you have. Several promising experimental treatments are now being tested in women:

  • A vaccine for breast cancer may help your body attack and kill cancer cells.
  • Some drugs block the effects of certain proteins, called growth factors, that fuel the growth of breast cancer cells. One study of Iressa (chemical name: ZD1839) found that it stabilized the disease of 13% of women with metastatic breast cancer for at least six months. Iressa works against a growth factor called EGF (epithelial growth factor).
  • Some chemotherapy drugs that are standard for treating other cancers haven't yet been tried for treating breast cancer.

Tests of experimental treatments are called "clinical trials." Find out more about clinical trials.

You will not be given an experimental treatment without your knowledge. To participate in a clinical trial of an experimental therapy, you will have to read, understand, and sign a consent form.

The consent form for most studies is 12 to 16 pages long. You do not have to make a decision about participating in a study during your appointment with your doctor. In fact, doctors prefer that patients carefully consider whether they want to participate in a trial before signing up.

Clinical trials of cancer drugs for women with metastatic disease generally do not have a placebo (a "dummy" or sugar pill) as part of the study. In other words, everyone on the study will get active treatment. A clinical trial can be viewed as an opportunity to get a newer, perhaps better, treatment that may not otherwise be available.

Expert Quote

"When offering participation in a clinical study to a patient, I encourage them to read the consent form at home, with family or friends, with other medical providers they know—either socially or professionally. Even when a patient is ready to sign the consent form during our appointment, I ask them to spend time on their own before they make a final decision."

-- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H.

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