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Katarzyna Jerzak, MD, MSc
Assistant Professor of Medicine
University of Toronto
Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation
Goal: To determine if MRI screening can detect breast cancer brain metastasis before symptoms arise and result in earlier and potentially more successful treatment.
Impact: Patients with advanced HER2-positive or triple negative breast cancer have a high-risk of cancer spreading to the brain. Once established, the brain metastasis can be difficult to treat, and can become lethal. Dr. Jerzak will test an approach to detect brain metastases at its earliest stages, when treatment is likely to be more effective.
What’s next: Dr. Jerzak will test whether brain metastasis can be detected before patients begin to experience symptoms. She will employ regularly scheduled MRI and other imaging technology in patients with advanced breast cancer. In addition, she will assess the impact of increased imaging frequency on quality of life and cancer-related anxiety.
Breast cancer that spreads to the brain is difficult to treat and deadly. Current practice is to image the brain only when patients develop symptoms suggestive of brain metastases. Dr. Jerzak and her colleagues are conducting a randomized trial of women with metastatic breast cancer that have no known brain metastasis to determine whether screening at regular intervals can detect brain metastasis before symptoms occur and improve outcomes for patients with this devastating disease.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Determining the impact of implementing early screening of brain metastasis through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in metastatic breast cancer patients.
Impact: Although women with metastatic breast cancer are living longer due to improved therapy, those who develop brain metastases have fewer treatment options because most drugs cannot penetrate the blood brain barrier. Patients with advanced HER2-positive or triple-negative breast cancer have a high risk of brain metastasis, which causes debilitating symptoms such as seizures, headaches, confusion, and often death. Dr. Jerzak is seeking to determine whether implementation of new screening methods may help detect brain metastasis and improve outcomes for these patients.
Current investigation: As part of her Conquer Cancer Foundation study, supported by BCRF, Dr. Jerzak is conducting a clinical trial in women with either HER2-positive or triple negative metastatic breast cancer, who have no known brain metastases. Patients will receive one of two options: 1) routine MRI screening of their brain at pre-determined intervals for one year; 2) MRI screening if symptoms of brain metastases develop – the current standard of care. If regular MRI screening is successful at detecting brain metastasis before symptoms appear, this work will lay the foundation for a large multicenter trial. Such a trial would have the power to determine if screening for brain metastasis can help metastatic breast cancer patients live longer with improved quality of life.
Dr. Jerzak completed medical school and internal medicine residency training at McMaster University. Then, she pursued medical oncology sub-specialty training at the University of Toronto (2013–2015), where she was the co-Chief Medical Resident and the recipient of the 2015 Don Sutherland Award of Excellence. Dr. Jerzak completed medical oncology fellowship training at the Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Center and an MSc degree in Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Toronto. She received the Canadian Association of Medical Oncologists fellowship award in 2015, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Canada (CIHR) Graduate Scholarship-Master's Program Award, among other awards and grants. Dr. Jerzak is currently a Medical Oncologist and Clinician Investigator at the Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Center and an Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto with a clinical focus on breast and gynecologic cancers. She has a research interest in breast cancer brain metastases and clinical trials.