Breast cancer

14 December 2009

New treatment for breast cancer

A combination of two drugs that more precisely target tumours significantly extended the lives of women who had stopped responding to other treatments.


Women with very advanced breast cancer may have a new treatment option. A combination of two drugs that more precisely target tumours significantly extended the lives of women who had stopped responding to other treatments, doctors reported.

The study is the first big test of combining Herceptin and Tykerb. In the study of 300 patients, women receiving both drugs lived 20 weeks longer than those given Tykerb alone. Doctors expect the combo to make an even bigger difference for women with less advanced disease.

The medicines aim at a protein that is made in abnormally large quantities in about one-fourth of all breast cancers. One drug blocks the protein inside a cell and the other does the same on the cell's surface.

"It's kind of like having a double brake on your tumour. If the first one fails, the second one does the job," said the Dr Kimberly Blackwell of Duke University. She led the study and has consulted for its sponsor, British-based GlaxoSmithKline PLC, which makes Tykerb, and for Genentech, which makes Herceptin.

The study

Women in the study had already received Herceptin alone or in combination with various chemotherapy drugs and still were getting worse. They were randomly assigned to receive only Tykerb or Tykerb plus Herceptin.

Median survival was analysed after about three-fourths of the women had died - roughly two years after the study began. It was 61 weeks in the combo group versus 41 for those taking only Tykerb.

That likely underestimates the combo's true benefit because women on Tykerb alone were allowed to add Herceptin partway through the study if they continued to worsen, and many of them did, Blackwell said.

Results were presented Friday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. - (Sapa/AP, December 2009)


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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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