A breast cancer survivor from Shoreham Beach, who was the third woman in the country to undergo a new trial for treatment, hopes the findings will ‘potentially save a lot of people’s lives’.
Caroline Lettres was diagnosed with grade three, stage two, triple negative cancer in September 2016 after finding a lump in her breast on her 31st birthday.
A doctor in Cambridge, where Caroline was living and working as a landlady, told her she was eligible for a pioneering programme run by the Breast Unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Caroline said: “It was pot luck that I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
She said she had no reservations about getting involved.
“I just thought I was probably going to die, so you accept everything, I didn’t think much of it,” she said.
Caroline took part in the PARTNER trial, where patients receive a new targeted drug, olaparib, in addition to their chemotherapy in order for researchers to see whether it improves the chemotherapy.
Eight weeks into the treatment, Caroline said the tumour had already shrunk significantly.
She hopes the study could mean patients in the future no longer have to undergo full radiotherapy as well as chemotherapy, like she did.
Caroline described the experience as ‘brutal’ and said: “I’m quite a headstrong person but it was hard work.
“I’m grateful that I was strong enough to get through it – but if you were elderly, I can understand how it could eat you up.
“I’m so glad I have taken one for the team. I hate to think of someone I love going through it.”
Caroline also took part in a Personalised Breast Cancer Programme, a ‘ground-breaking’ study to read patients’ DNA and RNA in order to tailor treatment to each individual.
Research has found there are around 10 different types of breast cancer which respond differently to treatments.
By sequencing the entire tumour genome of women with breast cancer and integrating this data with other biological and clinical observations, scientists hope to predict the response and therefore make the best treatment decision for each patient.
Caroline, who was born and bred in Shoreham, returned to the town during the trial but continued to travel to Cambridge regularly thanks to the support of friends and family.
A year after completing her treatment and surgery, Caroline is clear of cancer, though she continues to suffer with severe back problems and anxiety.
She said her doctors were ‘very pleased’ with her results.
Reflecting on the trials, she said: “I’m so pleased I did it.
“It could potentially save a lot of people’s lives.”
Visit crukcambridgecentre.org.uk to find out more