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Drug and hormone therapy combined could extend life of breast cancer sufferers

Wednesday 31st October 2018
A combined drug and hormone therapy trail has shown indications of significantly extending the lives of breast cancer sufferers.
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Women with breast cancer could survive for seven months longer on average through treatment with a targeted combination of drug and hormone therapy, new research has indicated.

Results of an international trial in which patients received drug palbociclib (Ibrance) alongside the hormone therapy fulvestrant (Faslodex) showed this group had clearly outlived those who used hormone treatment and a placebo. 

The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology congress in Munich, Germany.

As well as the generally greater longevity of patients on the combined therapy, those who had previously indicated a positive response to hormone therapy on its own lived ten months longer on average. 

In total, 521 women took part in the trial, every one of whom had a form of breast cancer in which the cancer cells had hormone receptor molecules on their surface. At the same time, none of them carried a molecule called HER2. All of those taking part in the trail had previously undergone hormone therapy as part of their treatment.

A key benefit of the research was that it enabled some of the women to delay chemotherapy, thus avoiding its side-effects. Those who used the combination treatment started chemotherapy 18 months after the start of the trail on average, compared with nine per cent in the placebo group. 

After three years, half of the women on the combination treatment were still alive, compared with four in ten of those combining the placebo and therapy. 
Statistical tests sounded a note of caution about the findings, but Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician Professor Charles Swanton described the results as “very encouraging”.

He added: “Although the treatment gave some people with breast cancer precious extra months, it's not a cure, and won't work for everyone, so we need to understand more about breast cancer's weak spots and exploit them to develop even more effective treatments in the future.”

Written by Martin Lambert

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