Kristin Babik was 15 when she found out her mom had breast cancer.

Babik, now a 20-year-old UF psychology and criminology junior, said her mother’s cancer was caught early. She survived but had a mastectomy.

Now, a drug called Perjeta recently approved for new use could diminish the need for full mastectomies.

Alan Shealy, a local pharmacist, said Perjeta turns off a protein called HER2 that makes cancer cells divide and grow faster.

“Before surgery, they can use this drug to shrink the tumor,” Shealy said. “That means the breast can be saved a lot of times so that cancer patients don’t have to have a full mastectomy.”

Nearly 20 percent of breast cancers demonstrate increased amounts of HER2, according to a Food and Drug Administration news release.

Babik said Perjeta sounds like a step forward.

“I think it’s great as long as it’s safe and no one’s harmed in the trials of it,” she said.

Paul Doering, professor emeritus in UF’s College of Pharmacy, said Perjeta has been on the market since 2012 but was only approved late last month for use prior to surgery.

“The main study used to test this drug was so impressive that it would be considered unethical to not come up with a mechanism to make it widely available to patients,” he said.

Doering said Perjeta is used with two other drugs, and the three-drug treatment costs between $27,000 and $49,000, depending on the duration of treatment time.

“It’s hard to find silver linings in medicine, and this is something to shout about,” Doering said. “It’s not a cure, but it’s definitely something to shout about.”

A version of this story ran on page 5 on 10/22/2013 under the headline "New cancer drug approved"

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