Combining the newly developed drug palbociclib with hormone therapy substantially extends the lives of women with advanced breast cancer, scientists announced yesterday.
Women with metastatic cancer who were given the combination therapy lived seven months longer than those who were treated with hormones alone. And in women who had previously responded to hormone therapy, these extended survival times reached an average of 10 months.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and was presented simultaneously at the European Society of Medical Oncology congress in Munich, Germany. “These results indicate that we can now offer women with incurable breast cancer some precious extra survival time before their condition worsens. It is very encouraging,” said Professor Nick Turner of the Institute of Cancer Research, who led the study.
Researchers from the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust were also involved in the study, which was funded by the drug’s manufacturer, Pfizer. A total of 521 women with advanced, hormone-sensitive breast cancer took part.
The trial examined what effect palbociclib had on women’s overall survival rates when their advanced breast cancer stopped responding to other treatments. Usually the only option then available is chemotherapy, which can have debilitating side-effects. The researchers sought to find out if the drug could delay the need for chemotherapy.
Their analysis revealed that women who received the combination treatment survived for an average of 34.9 months – 6.9 months longer than those who received only hormone treatment. Three years after they were enrolled in the study, 49.6% of women who received both palbociclib and hormones were still alive, compared with 40.8% of women who were treated with hormones alone.
However, Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now – while welcoming the study – said she was concerned that the new treatment might not reach NHS breast cancer patients because its appraisal methodology had not been updated to cope with modern combination therapies.
“We simply cannot let research progress like this pass NHS patients by, and we urge for reform to the appraisal methodology to ensure new and effective combination therapies can be made available quickly at a price the NHS can afford.”
The UK still has one of the lowest breast cancer survival rates in western Europe, and this year about 11,5000 women will lose their lives to the condition.