Health

Cancer trials: 'It was definitely a good thing to do'

  • 3 January 2011
  • From the section Health
Media captionJanie Thomas has battled cancer since 1980 and took part in a PARP inhibitor trial

"It is difficult to get your head around mortality," says Janie Thomas, who has had cancer four times since the 1980s.

She has defied the odds - having had two mastectomies and being given just months to live with lung cancer in 1995.

Now aged 62 and suffering from ovarian cancer, Janie is thinking of future generations by taking part in the trial of a new cancer drug, run by Cancer Research UK in Birmingham.

The trial is specifically for those with hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancer, like Janie.

When genetic tests in 2009 revealed a fault in her BRCA1 gene - which increases her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer - she became eligible for a trial of a new PARP inhibitor drug.

PARP stands for poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase.

The new drug works by knocking out a key DNA repair mechanism in cancer cells.

Blocking the action of PARP enzymes, which were discovered over 40 years ago, is thought to be significant in the development of new cancer treatments.

Following several unsuccessful rounds of chemotherapy, Janie did not hesitate to take part.

"I didn't feel in any way nervous about the trial. I hoped it was going to help me and that the doctors would get some information out of it," she says.

Promising start

She began the trial in November 2009 and underwent her second cycle in early 2010.

After a very promising start with few side-effects over five months, Janie's cancer started worsening and she is now back on a traditional drug.

She is sanguine about it however.

"I am aware that cancer is going to kill me, so I was prepared that the drug would stop working for me eventually.

"But I feel very well at the moment."

She feels strongly that the PARP trial is important for women like her who have an inherited risk of cancer.

"As someone with a scientific background I feel it's important for people like me to volunteer for trials like this, so future generations can benefit."

"Today's trials are tomorrow's breakthroughs."

Dr Daniel Rea, a consultant in medical oncology at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, who is running the trial, explained that women who inherit faults in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a 50-80% chance of developing breast cancer and an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

"Currently people with hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancer are treated in the same way as every other patient who develops advanced stage disease. We hope this trial will show by using the PARP inhibitor we can offer them more targeted, effective treatment," he said.

Blocking cells

For Janie's part, she would like to see more information on experimental drug trials being made available to cancer patients.

"It's only after a few series of drugs that people tell you about trial drugs," she says.

"This should be part of the early chat you have with your nurse or doctor so that they can put together a care pathway, a plan of what might happen next.

"In early discussions, trial drugs should be mentioned."

Is she proud of having taken part?

"I can't say I feel proud. It was definitely a good thing to do and I would be happy to take other trial drugs. I would really encourage people to take part in a trial."

When Janie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980, she says she was not offered chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and did not even see an oncologist.

Cancer care has changed dramatically since then.

Dr Daniel Rea, who has been overseeing Janie's treatment for 18 months, says cancer trials are now extremely important.

"We can't move on without information on new drugs.

"There have been major successes over the past 10 years and we hope there will be more breakthroughs in the future," he added.

"It is essential that patients take part in these trials so that we can learn how to use drugs more effectively."

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