A new treatment for breast cancer, in which two existing cancer drugs have been combined, has found to have staggering results in a new trial. The team, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the University of Manchester, presented their findings at the European Breast Cancer Conference. They reported that they had never seen breast cancer patients respond so quickly to cancer treatment.
Women who were newly diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer were given the therapy involving the combination of Tyverb and Herceptin at 23 UK hospitals. 87% of the participants responded to the treatment with tests showing that the cancer had stopped producing more cells.
But for some, the results were more dramatic.
The tumours had completely vanished in 11% of the women and had significantly shrunk in another 17%.
Study leader Professor Nigel Bundred, a cancer surgeon in Manchester said: ” For solid tumours to disappear in 11 days is unheard of. These are mind boggling results.”
Although the trial was relatively small in that it involved only 257 women of whom 66 took the combination treatment, the team, while remaining cautious, were excited about the results. They described the findings as a “stepping stone” to tailored cancer care.
The doctors had not expected or even intended to achieve such striking results. They were investigating the effect of drugs in the time between a tumour being diagnosed and the operation to remove it.
But by the time surgeons came to operate, there was no sign of cancer in some patients.
Professor Judith Bliss, from the London team said: “We were particularly surprised by these findings as this was a short-term trial.”
Current treatment for this form of breast cancer, HER2 positive breast cancer, is surgery followed by chemotherapy and Herceptin. But Professor Bliss believes the findings could eventually mean some women do not need chemotherapy.
Breast cancer is now thought of as at least ten separate diseases, each with a different cause, life expectancy and requiring a different treatment. The ability to match the specific errors in a tumour to targeted drugs is considered to be the future of cancer medicine. Breast cancers and particularly HER2 positive tumours, are thought to be at the forefront of this revolution in treatment.