Second opinion leads to life-changing care for Rothschild woman with breast cancer

Sarah Smith receiving chemo treatment
Sarah Smith receiving chemo treatment(UW Health)
Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 9:25 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) - A Rothschild breast cancer survivor is celebrating a five-year milestone post-diagnosis -- it’s something she’d never thought she be able to do after receiving a grim diagnosis in 2017.

“It was straight to stage four, meaning it had spread to other places like my bones,” she said. “I was shocked because I wasn’t even old enough to schedule a standard mammogram screening at that time,” said Sarah Smith.

Smith was only 39.

She said she asked her physician if this meant she only had six months or so to live. “He said, ‘yes, it could be that fast,’” she said.

Smith’s husband and sister pushed her to seek a second opinion. This led her to make an appointment with Dr. Kari Braun Wisinski, a medical oncologist and co-leader of the UW Carbone Cancer Center breast center disease-oriented team.

Smith has hormone receptor-positive, HER2- breast cancer, as well as a mutation of the BRCA gene which can makes people more susceptible to early-age breast cancer, according to Wisinski, who is also a professor of medicine and the chief of the hematology, oncology and palliative care division at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Her first treatment regimen, according to Wisinski, was a standard therapy for patients with breast cancer. It included aromatase inhibitors – anti-estrogen medication – as well as a class of medicines called CDK4/6 inhibitors, which are used to treat certain metastatic breast cancers by interrupting the process through which breast cancer cells divide and multiply.

This treatment plan worked for three years before the cancer started resisting the therapeutics. This is when Wisinski started looking at clinical trials that could benefit Smith.

Clinical trials are research studies performed in phases to evaluate a medical, surgical or behavioral intervention. When people participate in clinical trials, researchers are investigating if a new drug or device, for example, is safe and effective.

In September 2020, Smith joined a clinical trial led by Wisinski that is targeting the BRCA gene mutation using a drug already approved to treat breast cancer – talazoparib – in combination with gedatolisib, an investigational medication that may increase how well tumors respond to talazoparib. This clinical trial is a shared effort across five universities in the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium and is for patients with metastatic triple negative breast cancer or those with BRCA mutations.

In May, Smith and her family celebrated her reaching the five-year milestone post-diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for patients with metastatic breast cancer is only 29%, according to the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

Smith credits this milestone with getting a second opinion and joining clinical trials.

“I think everyone should get a second opinion if you can,” she said. “It might be exactly what you need to find the right doctor and the right treatments for you.”

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