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Tyler Woman Cancer-Free After Breakthrough Clinical Trial

Publication: KETK-TV (NBC, Tyler)
08/06/2019

Shelley Calhoun was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, a very aggressive form of the disease, in 2017.

The wife and mother of three found the lump herself, and went in for a consultation with her doctor. That’s when she was given the life-changing news.

“It stops you for a second, but my first thought was okay, what do we do now?” Calhoun said.

After her diagnosis, Calhoun was told a clinical trial would be happening at Texas Oncology in Tyler for triple-negative patients, and she agreed to be a part of it.

She worked with Dr. Vukelja at Texas Oncology through her treatment and had chemotherapy in combination with the drug Keytruda from the clinical trial.

Keytruda has commonly been used to treat stomach and lung cancer but was being studied for its effect on this specific form of breast cancer.

While chemotherapy took its toll, meaning Calhoun lost her hair and had several physical and internal changes, the tumor shrunk.

Every check-up the tumor would reduce in size significantly until it was almost non-existent.

Calhoun then had surgery to remove the lump and continued the clinical drug.

“She was in pcR meaning there was no trace of cancer after chemotherapy and surgery,” said Dr. Vukelja.

After several months, she said the effects of the chemotherapy lessened and Calhoun says she felt great.

“This is very exciting for triple-negative breast cancer because now we can see the progress. We have effective treatment and proof that it’s effective because the tumor is gone,” said Dr. Vukelja.

Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical group in charge of the trial, released a statement about the effectiveness of the test.

“These findings from this innovatively designed trial with KEYTRUDA mark the first time an anti-PD-1 therapy plus chemotherapy has demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in pathological complete response rate as a neoadjuvant, or pre-surgical, segment of treatment for triple-negative breast cancer,” said Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories. 

Today, Calhoun is in remission, and her hair is growing back.

Her family is excited to see her health return.

“While I don’t feel blessed to have had breast cancer, I do feel blessed that this clinical trial was happening and that I could be a part of it,” Calhoun said.

Doctors are calling this a breakthrough in the field of breast cancer research and will continue to perform studies with the clinical drug in the future.

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