New breast cancer trial gives hope

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breast cancerWOMEN with aggressive breast cancer stand to benefit from new treatment regimens after trials showed improved survival if new drugs were added in combination with older ones.

Tumours that test positive to high levels of the protein HER2 - about a quarter of breast cancers - have a poorer prognosis.

But results presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Conference in Texas show survival is doubled in women who take the drug Herceptin along with standard chemotherapy, at least four years after the start of their treatment.

Jacquie Chirgwin, a breast cancer medical oncologist at Box Hill Hospital, Melbourne, said the results reflected what doctors had been noticing in their clinical practice. Herceptin was, "probably better than anything we've ever had before for patients with advanced breast cancer", she said.

As well, those whose cancer was also oestrogen-dependent had an improved outlook if they took Herceptin - made by the drug giant Roche - along with hormone-suppressing medicines, according to a separate trial presented at the conference.

Dr Chirgwin said women with oestrogen-positive cancers had tended to be treated with hormone therapies first because these had a high success rate. But more detailed analysis showed women whose cancer also over-expressed HER2 generally fared more poorly, and the new trial - of the oestrogen-blocking Arimidex alone versus it combined with Herceptin - showed women who took both drugs went twice as long on average before having a relapse.

For women whose cancer spread despite Herceptin, another new drug - Tykerb - showed promise in treating secondary brain tumours.

Tykerb, which is made by GlaxoSmithKline, "can get into the central nervous system and may indeed prevent relapses", said Paul Mainwaring, a consultant medical oncologist at Mater Hospital, Brisbane.

A preliminary study in Boston of 38 women presented at the conference showed brain tumours shrank in about a quarter of patients.

Dr Mainwaring said the drug might have separate benefits to Herceptin because it was a smaller molecule that would penetrate body tissue differently.

source - The Sydney Moring Herald 

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