For a notoriously aggressive cancer such as HER2-positive breast cancer, the study findings are encouraging.
"We're getting responses that are looking better than at least one conventional choice and a toxicity profile that is better," said Dr. Clifford Hudis, chief of the Breast Cancer Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who was not involved with the study. "It may not be the cure for this cancer and may represent one chapter in a fairly long book for people who have metastatic breast cancer, but it's a new and additional option."
"We don't have evidence of a significant improvement in overall survival so we're not curing people, but if you're going to be treated, this has real benefits."
Dr. Eric Winer, director of the breast oncology center at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, said the effectiveness of the drug, paired with its low side effect profile, could be a boon for many patients.
"It has been shown to be effective when other standard treatments have stopped working, and it has great promise as a drug to be used earlier in the course of the disease," Winer said. "I have been using the drug on clinical trials for six years, and we have patients who have been on it for two years, three years... Not [for] everyone, but for some it is amazing."
For Spence, the new drug meant she could live a normal life. Although her cancer once again started to progress, she is grateful for the nine months it didn't.
"It gave me more time with my husband," she said. "We need more options for women with stage 4 breast cancer, and this is a wonderful option. It gives the opportunity to be normal women and mothers and wives."