A breakthrough combination treatment detailed in a UCLA-led study improves overall survival in young breast cancer patients who previously had limited care options.
Seventy percent of young, pre-menopausal women in the study who took a drug called ribociclib in combination with standard hormone therapy were alive after 3-1/2 years, compared to just 46% of women who received hormone therapy alone.
Ribociclib, developed by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, has long been used in treatment of postmenopausal women with metastatic breast cancer, and works by blocking proteins that promote cancer growth.
For women who received the combination treatment, the cancer did not progress for an average of nearly two years, compared to 13 months for those who received hormone therapy and placebo.
Dr. Harold Burstein, a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute oncologist who was not involved in the research, called the study “a substantial step forward.”
“The drug actually improves overall survival, so women are living longer because of these drugs,” Burstein said. “Many of us were really pleased to see that the actual impact on survival was as robust and substantial as it was.”
Burstein said the study is unique in examining younger women with metastatic hormone-receptor positive breast cancer, as older cohorts are more frequently studied.
“Most of the drugs that have emerged in the treatment of estrogen receptive-positive cancer have only been explored rigorously in postmenopausal patients because the drugs have only been known to work in postmenopausal patients,” Burstein said.
Dr. Michael Misialek, a pathologist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, also weighed in on the findings, which recently made a splash at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.
“There haven’t been a lot of options and I feel like I’m diagnosing more breast cancer in younger women and it’s great now that we have an option that extends survival in this population which hasn’t been shown previously,” Misialek said.
He said he thinks the treatment will be “the new standard” for young breast cancer patients and serves as a great source of hope for them. He added that the treatment doesn’t present any new adverse side effects or risks to patients.
Meredith Mendelson, executive director of the Ellie Fund, a Needham-based nonprofit that provides assistance to Massachusetts breast cancer patients, said, “This research finding provides actual hope and not theoretical.”
Mendelson said breakthroughs in cancer care are all about “living for a very long time and living well.”
“We know people have been living very well with metastatic breast cancer so it has to be because of these breakthroughs,” she said.
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