Breast cancer pill has benefits in certain hard-to-treat cases


A pill has been shown to help stave off certain difficult-to-treat early-stage breast cancers after initial treatment, as findings are reported early because they are so promising.

The study results were released Thursday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology ahead of its annual meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The pill, called Lynparza, has been shown to help breast cancer patients with harmful mutations live longer without disease after their cancer was treated with standard surgery and chemotherapy.

It was studied in patients with mutations in genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that can predispose people to breast cancer if they don’t work properly, but who didn’t have a gene flaw that the drug Herceptin could target.

Most of the patients in the study also had tumors that were not fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone. Cancers that are not fueled by these two hormones or by the Herceptin gene targets are called “triple-negative.” They are particularly difficult to treat.

Radiology Center

FILE – A technician from the radiology center performs a routine mammogram. (Photo by: BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The new study tested Lynparza in 1,836 women and men with early-stage disease who received the drug or placebo pill for a year after surgery and chemotherapy. About 82% of patients in the study had triple-negative breast cancer.

Independent observers advised releasing the results after seeing clear benefit from Lynparza. After three years, 86% of patients lived on it without their cancer coming back, compared to 77% in the placebo group.

The results suggest that more patients should have their tumors tested for BRCA mutations to help guide treatment decisions, said ASCO president Dr. Lori Pierce, a cancer radiation specialist at the University of Michigan.

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Serious side effects were not more common with the drug. Other side effects included anemia, fatigue, and blood cell count abnormalities.

Lynparza, marketed by AstraZeneca and Merck, is already sold in the United States and elsewhere for the treatment of widespread breast cancer and for the treatment of certain cancers of the ovaries, prostate and pancreas. It costs about $14,000 per month, but what patients pay out of pocket varies depending on income, insurance, and other factors.

The study was supported by AstraZeneca and the National Cancer Institute.

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