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Courtenay Edelhart covers health care for The Californian. Reach her at, at or on Twitter@TBCHealth.

NEW HOPE FOR CANCER FIGHT: An experimental drug being investigated for the treatment of advanced breast cancer has earned a "breakthrough therapy" designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a paper on it will be presented this week at a major medical conference in San Diego.

Included in the 2012 FDA Safety and Innovation Act, the breakthrough therapy designation was created to expedite the development and review of drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions. To earn this designation, a treatment must demonstrate "substantial improvement" over available therapy, according to the FDA.

The Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center in Bakersfield participated in a two-year, international clinical trial for the drug, palbociclib, through its research partnership with UCLA. Five patients from Bakersfield were among 165 people who received the therapy from 2010 to 2012.

"One of the major reasons why this medication is a game changer is that it allows these patients to have a better disease progression-free survival compared to other standard drugs available today," said CBCC's Dr. Ravi Patel. "The major advantage is that this kind of therapy is not as toxic as chemotherapy.

"All of the traditional side effects of chemotherapy such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting, as well as tiredness and fatigue, are not seen with this particular drug. Patients can have a better quality of life."

Cancer is abnormal cell growth. Some breast cancers are driven by hormones and others are not. So-called "hormone positive" breast cancer accounts for about 60 percent of Stage 4 cancers, or cancers that have spread beyond their point of origin.

The clinical trial enrolled post-menopausal women with hormone-resistant metastatic breast cancer.

Gloria Zollar, 78, of Bakersfield, was one of them.

Her mother had breast cancer, so Zollar was very good about getting her annual mammogram and followed up quickly when a routine screening found a trouble spot.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004.

Zollar had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, but none worked sufficiently. Eventually it spread to her bones.

"I was a little frightened, but Dr. Patel had taken very good care of me up to that point, so when he suggested I enroll in this clinical trial, I did it," she said. "It seemed better than the alternative."

Zollar is now in remission.

"I feel great," she said. "I play golf twice a week and I help around the house."

The only side effect Zollar recalled was mild constipation that she treated with over-the-counter medicine.

During the trial, palbociclib -- a pill -- was combined with the standard anti-estrogen treatment Letrozole. The combined treatment resulted in a 26.1 month progression-free survival rate compared with only 7.5 months for Letrozole alone.

Under development by Pfizer Inc., the medication used in the study is a selective inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) 4 and 6.

Yeah. Made my eyes glaze over, too. Here's how Patel explained it.

"All cells, including cancer cells, divide and grow," he said. "Cancer is like a car going 200 mph in a 40 mph zone. CDK 4/6 inhibitors put a break on a wild car and bring it to a stand still, or at least slow it down."

Of the 17 treatments whose developers applied for breakthrough therapy status from the FDA between Oct. 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014,only one has been granted. Ten were denied and six more await a decision.

Zollar is thrilled with the outcome of the trial she enrolled in and glad she had a hand in advancing medical research.

"I understand that this medication is now helping a lot of other people," she said.

The study's findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, which concludes Wednesday in San Diego.

CHILDREN AND CHOLESTEROL: I'm as guilty as any parent of spending far too much time in the fast food drive-thru lane, but here's yet another reason to limit such excursions.

Nearly a third of children have cholesterol problems that put them at risk for cardiovascular disease in future years, according to a new study.

Of 12,700 children between the ages of 9 and 11 who were screened in Texas, about one of three was found to have borderline or high cholesterol, according to the study by the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The findings were particularly unnerving because problems were found in children regardless of their weight.

Obese youngsters were more likely to have abnormal cholesterol levels, but 35 percent of children who were not obese had abnormal cholesterol, too.

There is debate about how best to respond to the findings. Some physicians oppose universal cholesterol screening, worried that very young children could potentially be over-prescribed strong cholesterol fighting drugs.

But others, including the American Heart Association, support broad screening as an opportunity to discuss the importance of diet and exercise with parents.

These are good discussions to have with parents, and with children whining for greasy fast food.

Maybe some vegetables, instead? Hold the butter.

HEALTH FAIR IN LAKE ISABELLA:The Kern Valley Hospital Foundation and Liberty Ambulance are co-sponsoring their annual Spring Health Fair 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 29 under a canopy on the front lawn of the hospital, 6429 Park Ave., Lake Isabella.

About 40 vendors will provide health and community information, and low-cost meals will be available from the hospital cafeteria.

For information, call (760) 379-5257 ext. 24.

OMNI FAMILY HEALTH GROWING: Omni Family Health will hold an open house from 2:30 to 5 p.m. April 24 for its newest clinic at 4131 Ming Ave.

The 3,800-square-foot clinic has nine examination rooms and offers family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN and behavioral health services.

There will be remarks by the health care practice's leadership, as well as tours and raffle giveaways.

The Ming facility is the first of two new clinics to open. Omni Family Health broke ground in December on a 15,600-square-foot clinic in Oildale at 210 N. Chester Ave.

Omni, which provides healthcare to the underserved and uninsured, already has 17 sites throughout Kern County.

For information on the open house, which is free and open to the public, call (661) 459-1900. An RSVP is requested.

WHAT YOU'RE SAYING: Here's the latest buzz from The Californian's social media platforms:

Regarding a story about a Kaiser Permanente telemedicine clinic opening in a local Wal-Mart as part of a pilot project:

"Next will be in Joe's Liquor Store." Dan Hedgpeth, Facebook.

Regarding a political cartoon about Democrats declaring victory on Obamacare:

"I think it's just too soon to say. The performance of the carriers will have a big impact on long term success. And...there's where I have my concerns." Karen Sheeler, Facebook.