CHICAGO, Illinois -- Researchers in Chicago and across the country are hoping to prove a topical gel can treat breast cancer.
If successful, it would produce a safer alternative to a common breast cancer medication that some patients are reluctant to take.
It's the first time tamoxifen, a drug used for decades to reduce the risk and recurrence of breast cancer, is being tested as a topical gel. It's a potentially safer option with no known side effects.
The current pill form of tamoxifen, which has been very effective in treating breast cancer, can cause hot flashes, fatigue, and in some cases cancer of the uterus and stroke.
"It's a way of delivering the drug to the breast and protecting the rest of the body," Northwestern breast cancer surgeon Dr. Seema Khan said.
The target patient group right now is those in the earliest stages of breast cancer.
"This is DCIS, where the tumor cells are still inside the duct," Dr. Khan said.
DCIS is the exact diagnosis former Chicago Tribune writer Patricia Tennison got earlier this year.
"I just got the news and took a breath and went, 'Oh... what's next?" she said.
Tennison agreed to participate in the clinical trial before her surgery using the gel and taking a pill. One of them was a placebo. The goal is to see if both work just as well in fighting cancer cells.
"We hope it will decrease the growth rate of the cells and it will really provide very important information to help other women in the future," Dr. Khan said.
After her successful surgery, Tennison is free of breast cancer today and hoping what researchers have tapped into will change the future of breast cancer treatments.
"What I'm doing in these tests may help my daughter and probably surely my granddaughter, from having to go down the same path I went down," she said.
This is a blind study. Neither the patient nor the doctor knows if they're taking the pill or the experimental gel as a placebo. Northwestern is recruiting more patients for the clinical trial. The results may come in two years.
Link to breast cancer trial:
Links for breast density trials:
Breast cancer gel being tested in Chicago