This study offers encouraging evidence
In many cases, breast cancer is considered a treatable disease — as long as it’s diagnosed early and treated with the proper combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or targeted drugs. But triple-negative breast cancer has long been an exception.
The reason it’s so deadly is that these cancer cells lack the docking points for three proteins — the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (called HER2) — that effective drugs can latch on to in order to destroy tumors. Women diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, who make up 15% to 20% of breast cancer patients, often try chemotherapy after chemotherapy, working through each drug until their cancer starts growing again, at which point they move on to the next drug.
But in a presentation at the European Society for Medial Oncology in Munich, scientists reported that combining chemotherapy with an immunotherapy drug helped lower risk of their disease progressing, and of death, by 20% compared to women treated with chemotherapy alone. The research was conducted in 900 women with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer who were randomly assigned to receive the combination therapy or just chemotherapy.
“It’s very exciting, because now immunotherapy is actually coming to the triple-negative breast cancer population,” says Dr. Sylvia Adams, director of clinical breast cancer research at NYU’s Perlmutter Cancer Center and a co-author on the study. “We see women with durable responses without any evidence of cancer on their scans years later. That’s truly a victory.”
The results are especially encouraging since they apply to women who are treated with the immune and chemotherapy combination as their first treatment, before they are put through the standard therapy of cycling through chemotherapy drugs.
So far, using immunotherapy agents alone in treating breast cancer of any kind has not been successful. “There’s always been a question of whether there was even a role for immunotherapy in breast cancer,” says Dr. Jennifer Litton, from MD Anderson Cancer Center, who was not involved in the study but does research of other chemo and immunotherapy combinations. Researchers believe that’s because breast cancer cells tend not to have many mutations, and cancers with a greater number of mutations, such as lung cancers and skin cancers, are better at attracting immune cells to attack them.
|Read on: A New Type of Treatment Shows Promise Against Aggressive Breast|