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Community Healthcare System takes the mystery out of breast cancer clinical trials, offers leading-edge care for high-risk patients

By: Stacey Kellogg Last Updated: February 2, 2020

The Community Cancer Research Foundation was the first in Northwest Indiana to give patients access to certain breast cancer clinical trials that have since drastically improved the survival of women. Today, they continue to forge paths in this space, offering new trials while working to advance worldwide knowledge about breast cancer diagnosis and treatment alike.

As part of that, the motto “With you every step of the way” just might be the perfect way to describe how the specialists at Community Healthcare System strive to take the mystery out of clinical trials, and offer care, guidance and support throughout a woman’s journey – from screening to treatment, if necessary.

The hospitals are now enrolling women in a new National Cancer Institute trial that may help researchers end the debate about whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional mammography is more effective at detecting advanced breast cancer, and also whether certain women should have their screening mammograms annually or every two years.

“There’s been debate on this – how often you screen, who benefits and who doesn’t - but our main goal is to help women with advanced breast cancer detect their cancer early and increase their chances of survival,” said Amber Kindt, RN, BSN, OCN, Director of Cancer Research for Community Cancer Research Foundation. “When you add to that the idea that we’re also looking for whether women in a certain risk category would benefit from a mammogram every year or every two years, it’s more about prevention of advanced breast cancer, and that’s really exciting.”

Nationwide, more than 20,000 women are enrolled in the trial – the large sample size made possible by the fact that most women are seeking annual mammography screening anyway.

“You know you already have to have your mammogram, so the next step, if you are interested in participating in the trial, is to contact our office,” Kindt said.

“There are two groups in the trial – women who qualify for the trial to have their mammograms every other year instead of annually, and women who qualify for 2D versus 3D. Either way, you are still getting your mammogram and increasing your chances of detecting cancer at an early stage,” she said.

Right now, the mammography trial screenings take place at St. Mary Medical Center’s Women’s Diagnostic Center in Hobart, backed by the expertise of Dr. Mary Nicholson, a fellowship-trained breast radiologist, and Dr. Mohamad Kassar, principal investigator for the Community Cancer Research Foundation.

Kindt said the Community Cancer Research Foundation offers other breast cancer clinical trials that give women with advanced breast cancer access to treatments they would not otherwise be able to try. One in particular is offered to certain women with triple negative breast cancer. This means, in simple terms, that the three most common elements known to fuel breast cancer – estrogen, progesterone, and the Her-2/neu gene – are not present in the breast cancer tumor. Women with this type of cancer who have remaining disease in surrounding tissues after surgery may qualify for a trial that offers two different maintenance therapies that aim to keep the remaining cancer at bay, measuring the efficacy of them and potentially prolonging life.

Yet another leading-edge trial looks at prevention, designed to measure whether aspirin could be beneficial in reducing the recurrence of breast cancer. Still another trial looks at whether a common diabetes drug could help prevent abnormal cells from developing into breast cancer.

“These are all complex trials, but we break it down and make it easy for patients to digest and to participate,” Kindt said. “We are here to educate, and guide them through whatever they need, and our participating physicians are excellent. They know their patients best and are on board with the trials we are offering that could potentially help their patients.”

Outside of the Community Cancer Research Foundation, the hospitals of Community Healthcare System offer a high-risk breast clinic for women who are at higher risk for developing cancer, helping to guide them on the proper screening and diagnostic plans. In addition, breast health nurse navigators help women make appointments, coordinate necessary testing and have their questions answered. Overall, they are strong patient advocates who bridge the gap between patients and the specialists caring for them, helping them to navigate their diagnosis and the healthcare system in general.

The number to the Community Cancer Research Foundation is 219-836-6875. For more information about the breast cancer clinical trials offered through Community Healthcare System, visit https://www.myccrf.com/trials.

For more information about breast cancer care at the hospitals, visit https://www.comhs.org/services/cancer-care/breast-cancer.