As cancer survivors know, special occasions take on a deeper meaning when a diagnosis brings uncertainty to life. For Shannen Doherty, a stage 4 metastatic breast cancer diagnosis has inspired her to embrace each day — making her husband, Kurt Iswarienko’s birthday all the more significant. “So many roads we’ve been down,” she writes in herRead More
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So many roads we have been down. Each one unique filled with challenges that easily could of been road blocks. Yet, your tenacity, strength and support helped us navigate the roads together. Always together. You are the steady beat behind my back. The humor that keeps me smiling. The creativeness that inspires. The intelligence that sparks my brain. You are exceptional Kurt. For all that you are. All you have accomplished. The ALL of just being you. I love you. Happy birthday. I’ll always be The Edge to your Bono. @kurtiswarienko
Study: Love Supports Patient Health
Doherty’s strong marriage may also have measurable health benefits. A forthcoming study found that women with breast cancer who are in satisfying romantic relationships have a reduced risk of health problems following treatment. The link between romance and health was tied to inflammation brought on by stress.
Happy partnerships, the researchers found, corresponded to lower levels of inflammation markers in test-subjects’ blood. When ongoing stress kept inflammation markers high, the risk of a breast cancer recurrence as well as other health problems, like heart disease and diabetes, increased.
“The research shows the importance of fostering survivors’ relationships,” says Rosie Shrout, lead author of the study, conducted at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University. “It’s important for part of [patient] screening and treatment to take the relationship into account.” When needed, she added, couples counseling could benefit patient health in the long run.
Shannen Doherty’s First Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Early efforts to treat her cancer without a mastectomy or aggressive treatments were not enough as doctors realized her cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. In the end, the actress underwent estrogen therapy treatments, a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery before declaring herself cancer free in 2018.
She received her new diagnosis — stage 4 — about a year ago, but Doherty opted to keep the news private while working on a “90210” reboot (since canceled) leaning on castmates, such as Brian Austin Green, she said. Doherty went public with her stage 4 diagnosis in a Feb. 4 interview with ABC’s Amy Robach, herself a breast cancer survivor, “I definitely have days where I say, ‘Why me?’ And then I go, ‘Well, why not me? Who else? Who else besides me deserves this?'” Doherty said. “None of us do.”
Coping with a Late-Stage Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Stage 4 breast cancer means that your cancer has metastasized and is no longer regionalized to the breast. While treatable, this cancer currently has no cure.
While we don’t know the specifics of Doherty’s breast cancer, treatment options for metastatic disease include hormone therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drugs. Sometimes surgery and/or radiation is considered. The goal is to keep you as stable as possible, slow the tumor growth, and improve quality of life.
Kinase Inhibitors For Breast Cancer
A new class of targeted therapy drugs called kinase inhibitors can now help treat some metastatic breast cancers, Dr. Erica Mayer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told SurvivorNet in a previous conversation. These drugs target two kinase proteins, called cyclin-dependent kinase 4 and 6, that normally regulate the cell cycle and division. There are three CDK 4/6 inhibitors available: palbociclib (Ibrance), ribociclib (Kisqali), and abemaciclib (Verzenio).
Dr. Erica Mayer explains hormone therapy options available for breast cancer patients
These drugs are primarily used in women with hormone receptor-positive and HER2-negative breast cancer. When they are combined with other hormone therapy, many women can have up to two years of their cancer not getting any worse — known as progression-free survival (PFS). A common side effect was a decrease in white blood cells which can increase the risk of infection.
What’s Next for Breast Cancer and Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy has been a game-changing treatment option when it comes to treating several cancers. But until recently, researchers hadn’t had much success using the therapy to fight breast cancer. That’s changing now.
Dr. Sylvia Adams, a medical oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, on the use of immunotherapy in treating breast cancer.
“The question now becomes, is it only triple-negative breast cancer that can benefit from immunotherapy, or are there other subtypes as well?” Dr. Sylvia Adams, a medical oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, said to SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
“If a tumor has the PD-L1 protein in it, that means there’s already an inflammatory response, that the patient’s immune system already recognized the tumor and was starting to work against it. The benefit of identifying such a strong biomarker in the triple-negative subset will allow us to actually test for the presence and responsiveness to immunotherapy in other subtypes of breast cancer.”