When Deb Crites was told she could enroll in a trial that would not only shorten the course of her radiation but also help assess a possible treatment change for breast cancer patients nationwide, she didn’t bat an eye.
“I didn’t have to think about it,” Crites said. “Someone did this for me, so if I can pay it forward, I’m happy to do that.”
Last spring, Crites was diagnosed with ductal adenocarcinoma of the breast — the most common type of breast cancer. She was treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation and hormonal therapies. Part of her treatment included use of a drug called Perjeta, which has shown in earlier trials to increase cure rates, according to her oncologist, Dr. Michael Stone of UCHealth Greeley.
“Deb was able to receive the best available therapy only because of clinical trials that have been done in the past,” Stone said. “It is crucial that we continue to have trials available to our patients both for potentially their own benefit as well as to advance the field of cancer care as a whole.”
The clinical trial Crites enrolled in will determine whether a much shorter course of radiation therapy is effective for node-positive breast cancer. Currently, the typical course of radiation for these patients is 25 to 33 daily treatments, lasting a few minutes each weekday over a period of five or six weeks. The radiation course in the trial, called hypofractionated radiation therapy, is 15 to 19 daily treatments over three to four weeks.
“The difference of a couple weeks can mean the world to many patients who are undergoing daily radiation treatments,” said Dr. Josh Petit, radiation oncologist at UCHealth Cancer Center in Fort Collins. “If this approach is proven successful through this trial, it could change the way node-positive patients are treated throughout the country.”
Hypofractionated radiation therapy already is the standard of care for node-negative breast cancer patients, and also is used in the treatment of other cancers, such as specific prostate cancers.
Along with helping others, the trial and its shorter period of treatment appealed to Crites because of her profession. She and her husband are farmers along the Colorado-Kansas border, a three-hour drive from the UCHealth Cancer Center. The clinical trial allowed her to get back to the family farm — and corn harvest — in a shorter period of time.
“I’d leave home early every Monday morning, stay with my daughter and her family in Loveland Monday through Friday while I had my treatment at the Cancer Center in Fort Collins. Then Friday, I’d head back home again,” she said.
After her four-week radiation course, her doctors arranged her follow-up visits so that Crites can receive chemo treatment in Greeley before heading that same day to Fort Collins where she meets with Petit for a follow-up and then to the UCHealth Wellness Place at the Cancer Center for physical therapy.
“Everyone has been so fantastic to work with,” she said. “They are so caring and so good at what they do.”
UCHealth’s Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs and University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora also are enrolling patients for the trial. This is the first investigator-initiated clinical trial, funded by University of Colorado Cancer Center, to be made available to patients across the UCHealth system. CU Cancer Center is the only comprehensive cancer center in the state, as designated by the National Cancer Institute.
“We hope this is the first of many clinical trials we are able to open across the UCHealth system,” said Dr. Karyn Goodman, associate director of clinical research for CU Cancer Center. “This is a major step toward expanding access to oncology trials, and we hope to continue to bring these leading-edge treatment options to Coloradans outside of the Denver metro area.”