Katarzyna Jerzak, MD, MSc, FRCPC
Testing if MRI screening can detect breast cancer brain metastasis before symptoms arise, to allow for earlier detection and potentially more successful treatment.
Brain metastasis remains a significant challenge in breast cancer, with a prognosis that ranges from 2 to 25.3 months despite therapy. Currently, patients with breast cancer are only screened for brain metastasis once they develop symptoms—such as seizures or headaches. By this time, the disease is likely to have progressed to a point where it becomes especially difficult to treat. Dr. Jerzak is conducting studies to determine the feasibility of using MRI screening to detect brain metastases, before symptoms develop, so that patients with breast cancer brain metastases can be treated before symptoms arise and hopefully improve their prognosis. Her work focuses on triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and HER2-positive breast cancers, which are more likely to spread to the brain than other subtypes.
As part of her Conquer Cancer Foundation-BCRF award, Dr. Jerzak and her team began a randomized pilot study among patients with newly diagnosed metastatic breast cancer that is classified as either TNBC or HER2-positive. Thus far, 25 patients were recruited and randomized to either symptom-based surveillance (the standard practice) or MRI-based screening for brain metastases. In addition, a new imaging technique called chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) is being performed at the same time as the standard, contrast-enhanced MRI, to potentially help detect brain metastases even earlier.
Dr. Jerzak and her team plan to recruit 50 patients in total. If this initial study proves successful in improving survival and quality of life for metastatic breast cancer patients, they will expand the trial into a phase III randomized trial. A phase III randomized trial is the gold standard for proving effectiveness of new methods and therapies—this could be practice-changing and provide much-needed help for breast cancer patients with brain metastases.
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.
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