Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Drug added to hormone treatment gets support

Younger women with advanced breast cancer can find hope in new targeted therapy, N.Y. Times says 

A new drug has brought new hope for younger women with advanced breast cancer.

According to a recent story by by Denise Grady in The New York Times, "adding a newer medicine to the standard hormonal treatment helped women who had not reached menopause or were still going through it."

Seventy percent of the women in a clinical test, the article says, "were still alive three and a half years [after taking the drug], compared with only 46 percent of those given the standard treatment alone."

Grady's piece explains that the "standard treatment uses drugs to block the hormone estrogen or stop the body from making it, because estrogen feeds the growth of breast cancer in many patients."

The new findings apply only to women "whose tumors are sensitive to estrogen but lack a protein called HER2."

Dr. Debu Tripathy
Dr. Debu Tripathy, an author of the study and chair of breast medical oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, is quoted by Grady as follows: "I think there's a lot of optimism now that were have pushed the survival boundary, that we can go farther. Once you break a boundary, you learn how to break more boundaries."

The Times also quotes Dr. Sylva Adams, a breast cancer specialist and researcher at NYU Langone Health's Perlmuter Cancer Center but not a part of the study, as saying "this is wonderful news. It's a trial worth highlighting."

She also notes that — while citing the study as "a very important milestone" — "there have been very few studies in advanced breast cancer…showing a clear survival benefit."

The pill used in the trial, ribociclib, is, The Times reports, "a so-called targeted therapy, which blocks an enzyme that helps cancer grow. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 for postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer, and then in 2018 for younger women."

Ribociclib, which women may take for months (or even several years), costs $12,553 a month. Its usage must be monitored closely, Grady writes, "because it can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm, as well as liver and kidney problems and lowered blood counts that can increase the risk of infection."

Like all targeted therapies, the article adds, "it may stop working as the cancer developed resistance to it."

The results of the study, which were slated to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, in Chicago, were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study included 672 women aged 18 to 59. All had advanced breast cancer, "meaning it had recurred after treatment or had begun to spread, and was no longer considered curable."

More information about new drugs can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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