UW Carbone Cancer Center looking for extreme survivors of breast cancer
MADISON, Wis — A University of Wisconsin doctor was inspired by local patients to find the secret to long-term breast cancer survival.
“I’ve been through every single drug that they have available to treat breast cancer,” said Ellen Henning, of Prairie du Sac.
The 82-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978. This is her 40th year fighting the disease.
She credits her survival to her active lifestyle.
“Well when I got done with my treatment, I would come home and I had cows to take care of,” said Henning.
Dr. Mark Burkard at the Carbone Cancer Center is calling her an extreme survivor. And he doesn’t think she is alone.
He said for years physicians have been telling patients with metastatic breast cancer that the disease is incurable.
“In most cases people live for maybe a few years,” said Burkard. “When we’re finding people who live decades, that’s rather unusual and we’d like to know why.”
Burkard is conducting an international study of patients with metastatic breast cancer in hopes of unlocking the secrets to survival and finding more extreme survivors like Henning.
He hopes to survey 2,000 patients, looking at their cancer gene, past treatments, immune system, diet and lifestyle to find the similarity that makes them extreme survivors.
“There has to be enough of them where I can find a real difference between them and everyone else,” he said.
If he can crack the code, he believes treatments could be changed to give patients the ability to live as long as Henning.
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