Thousands of women with breast cancer could benefit from a treatment which delays the need for gruelling chemotherapy. Combining two drugs slows the progression of aggressive breast cancer, British experts have found. The study on 521 women, led by doctors at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, found that it kept tumours at bay for an average of five months longer than taking a dummy placebo pill.
The clinical trial, published in the Lancet Oncology medical journal, showed that combining the two drugs slowed cancer growth in two-thirds of women with advanced forms of the most common type of breast cancer. The medication is used for women with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer known as HER2-positive, which is responsible for 13,000 new cases in the UK each year.
On average, it slowed the progression of the cancer by an average 9.5 months, compared to 4.6 months for those who were given a placebo.
Fulvestrant alone costs in the region of £500 a month while palbociclib – which targets the division of cancer cells – costs approximately £6,500 a month. Dr Turner said: ‘We hope our results lead to the adoption of this drug combination in breast cancer, where it delays the need to start chemotherapy by an average of nine months.
‘Our study also sends a powerful message that in combining new drugs in innovative trials we can find better options for women with advanced breast cancer. ‘Chemotherapy can add several months to live but it comes at a cost of often life-limiting side effects, and we need alternative treatments that are better tolerated to treat patients with advanced breast cancer.
‘ Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, added: ‘If we’re going to drive further improvements in survival from cancer, it’s essential that we find ways of prolonging life in people whose cancers have evolved and become resistant to treatment. ‘This trial is an exciting example of one of the most promising approaches to overcoming drug resistance, by combining drugs with different mechanisms of action to block off cancer’s escape routes. ‘It’s very encouraging to see such substantial delays to cancer progression.
‘ Samia al Qadhi, chief executive at the Breast Cancer Care charity, said: ‘Adopting this targeted approach could open doors to a new way of treating these patients, helping to delay the spread of their disease and the need to start gruelling chemotherapy. We now need to know whether it will be used in clinical practice, and if it will be made available to those who desperately need it through the NHS. ‘All cancer patients deserve access to treatments which are clinically effective.