World first for mother in cancer drug trial

A mother in Yorkshire has become the first in the world to take part in a trial of a treatment to better control breast cancer which has spread to other parts of the body.

Ellen Paling, 44, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002

Ellen Paling, 44, of Chapeltown, near Sheffield, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 just a year after her daughter, now 13, was born.

But she was given the devastating news she had incurable metastatic breast cancer when it recurred three years ago, affecting her again last year.

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Although there are many treatments for the disease, which can affect patients many years after their initial breast cancer diagnosis, the benefits are only temporary – and typically only last a few months or a year or two.

Now she has become the first patient in the world to take part in a pioneering trial to test the use of a drug called a dual mTOR inhibitor which is designed to block a pathway that causes cancerous cells to divide and grow.

Since she has taken part in the international MANTA study, she says the illness has remained stable and has not spread.

Experts hope it will be pivotal in helping to find new treatments to control secondary breast cancer more often and last longer.

Until retiring last year, she worked as a research nurse at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital and has been treated for her illness at the city’s Weston Park Hospital, which she said she was “lucky to have on my doorstep”.

“Cancer affects so many people, aunties, friends, daughters, fathers, neighbours, and not many people like to talk about cancer that can only be temporarily treated,” she said. “This clinical trial has helped me think it’s not yet the end of the line.”

The trial has given her access to a new drug therapy, which she takes every day, and a standard injection. Both are offered on the NHS but not in combination.

“Most of the time I feel well, and it only feels real when I start to experience backache or nausea, or I see it written down when I’m going for an X-ray or CT scan,” she said. “Weston Park Hospital have been fantastic throughout my cancer journey. The staff there are my safety net and it’s really comforting knowing they are looking after you, and keeping an eye on you throughout.”

Cancer specialist Prof Rob Coleman, of Weston Park Hospital who is leading the MANTA study in Sheffield, said: “Although more and more people are surviving breast cancer, treatments for breast cancer that has spread are limited and, sadly in this situation, there is no cure.

“The drug we are testing is given in combination with hormone therapy for women with advanced breast cancers that have oestrogen receptors making them potentially sensitive to hormone therapies with the aim of delaying resistance to treatment.

“By looking at how resistance to cancer-growing cells could be stopped, this trial could be key in delivering vital new and improved treatment options for patients with metastatic breast cancer.”

The MANTA study involves hospitals across Europe. The treatment can only be offered to patients with metastatic breast cancer, whose disease is worsening despite treatment. It compares how well different treatments work in shrinking the tumours and preventing them from growing or spreading and is currently only available in trials.

Further information about the study can be found on the Cancer Research UK website at