Wednesday 28 September 2016

Breast cancer drug reduces tumours in just 11 days

Laura Donnelly in Amsterdam

Published 11/03/2016 | 02:30

The UK study involved women suffering from one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer – HER2 positive – who were given a combination of two targeted drugs
The UK study involved women suffering from one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer – HER2 positive – who were given a combination of two targeted drugs

A 'staggering' new breast cancer therapy has destroyed deadly tumours in just 11 days, trials have shown.

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Experts hailed the findings as "astonishing" and said it is the first time a drug for the disease has ever shown such a response.

They suggested the results of the trial - in women with one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer - could revolutionise future treatment of other types of disease.

The combined drug therapy - which would cost around €1,900 for treatment - entirely destroyed tumours as large as 3cm.

The findings mean thousands of women might be spared gruelling rounds of chemotherapy that normally follow surgery, experts said.

The UK study involved women suffering from one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer - HER2 positive - who were given a combination of two targeted drugs.

Almost nine in 10 women showed some response to the treatment - meaning the number of cancer cells began to fall. In one in four cases, the powerful cocktail saw tumours shrink significantly, and in some cases totally vanish.

The drug was shown to be effective even in cases where the disease had spread to the lymph nodes, the study, presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Amsterdam, found.

Lead researcher Professor Nigel Bundred, professor of surgical oncology at the University of Manchester, said: "For solid tumours to disappear in 11 days is unheard of. These are mind-boggling results."

Around 10,000 women a year who are diagnosed with breast cancer are HER2 positive, which means the disease ends to grow more quickly.

In recent years in the UK, they have been prescribed the drug Herceptin, usually for about 12 months, with costs amounting to around £20,000 (€25,500). The second drug, Tyverb, has shown some promise, but has been rejected by NHS rationing bodies for not being cost-effective, at £27,000 (€34,400) a year.

The study of 257 cancer patients by the University of Manchester and The University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation trust examined what happened when women were given both drugs together.

Scientists wanted to test the new combination therapy on tumours, to measure how effective it was at killing cancer cells. After 11 days, surgeons operated.

But medics were shocked to learn that in many cases, the cancerous growths had either disappeared, or shrunk significantly. Normally, it takes a matter of months or even years for tumours to respond to treatment.

In total, 87pc underwent biological changes that suggested the number of cancer cells had fallen. Scientists said they were most excited about a sub-group of 27 per cent of patients, who "responded exquisitely well" to the treatment, Prof Bundred, a cancer surgeon, said.

In 11pc of cases, the tumours had disappeared entirely, less than two weeks after they had been diagnosed. In a further 17pc, the tumours had become so small they were classed as "minimal residual disease".

Prof Bundred said: "These results are so staggering that I suspect we will have to run another trial."

Irish Independent

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