Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA): Breast Cancer and the Breakthrough Drugs that Helped My Daughter Survive

Ginny and I received a call the Monday before Thanksgiving, in 2015: our oldest daughter had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

My daughter Karen had discovered an abnormality a week earlier, and her OB/GYN sent her for a diagnostic mammogram. From that, doctors discovered an aggressive breast tumor that had already grown to five centimeters in width and metastasized to her lymph nodes.

Those first few weeks were surreal for our family, especially for Karen and her husband Curt. Karen’s doctors created an ambitious treatment program to beat back the cancer, including a cocktail of four different chemotherapy drugs: Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta.

During chemotherapy, the doctors explained to my daughter (who previously was a nurse), that one of the biggest risks for chemo patients is their white blood cell count. A low white blood cell count can leave chemo patients remarkably vulnerable to a sickness like the common cold, and because of their weakened state, the cold can devolve into pneumonia, for example, and prove fatal.

Thankfully a new breakthrough drug was available to keep Karen’s white blood cells high.

The drug is called Neulasta, and the FDA approved it in 2002. Although the approval date was almost fifteen years ago, it takes a while for word to spread among doctors that a drug is effective and for its use to become widespread. The drug works remarkably for Karen, and it has kept her blood count up throughout her entire battle against cancer.

In America, we need more breakthrough drugs like this one. We need more of our top researchers to spend time in the laboratory advancing new treatments instead of writing grant proposals. We need to streamline the Food & Drug Administration approval process for new drugs, so that a wider array of treatments are available sooner.

I am proud to support Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton’s 21st Century Cures Initiative to make these goals a reality. His legislation, the 21st Century Cures Act, passed the House in July; now it only needs to make it past the Senate before it arrives at the President’s desk. This is a top priority for House Republicans, so much so that we made cures research a key component of the health care plank of our Better Way agenda – “A Better Way to Fix Health Care.”

21st Century Cures would make it easier for researchers to recruit patients with certain diseases for drug trials and to design more targeted trials that are faster and cheaper, resulting in a less expensive end-product and a more efficient turn-around. It would also pave the way for more personalized medicine, allowing doctors to use biomarkers to monitor how a patient’s body reacts to particular drugs.

In April, Karen had a double mastectomy after six rounds of chemo. Miraculously the doctors were able to remove every bit of cancer. Neulasta was key in allowing this to occur, and so were the chemo drugs Carboplatin and Perjeta (approved by the FDA in 2004 and 2012).

I want the scientific and medical community to be able to continue in the discovery of astounding drugs like the ones that helped Karen.

The time to pass 21st Century Cures Act into law is now.