A targeted drug combined with hormone therapy can extend survival for some women with advanced breast cancer, a study has found.
Women taking palbociclib while receiving hormone therapy lived up to 10 months longer than those on hormone treatment alone. The combination treatment also delayed the start of chemotherapy, which can have debilitating side effects.
The clinical trial, led by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research in London and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, tested the benefit of adding palbociclib to the hormone therapy fulvestrant in 521 women with advanced, hormone-sensitive breast cancer whose tumours did not have a protein called HER2.
Researchers tested what effect the combination had on women’s overall survival and whether it could delay chemotherapy.
Analysis found women who received the combination treatment survived for an average of 34.9 months, which was 6.9 months longer than those who received fulvestrant and a dummy pill.
The benefits were even stronger in women who had previously responded well to hormone therapy. In these cases the combination treatment extended survival by 10 months.
The group of women receiving both the drug and hormone therapy also saw a delay before chemotherapy of almost nine months longer.
Professor Nicholas Turner, Professor of Molecular Oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research and Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, led the trial. He is now calling for access to the drug on the NHS to be widened.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one person diagnosed every 10 minutes. Every year around 11,500 people in the country die from the disease, according to statistics from charity Breast Cancer Care.
Professor Turner said: “The development of palbociclib is one of the biggest advances in treatment for women with advanced breast cancer in the last two decades.
“It’s incredibly rewarding that the benefits we had previously seen for palbociclib are now translating into such significant extensions in survival. This drug can offer women more precious time with their loved ones and because it is a targeted treatment it is much kinder than chemotherapy, and enables many women to carry on with their lives normally.
“I’m keen to see it available on the NHS for women with breast cancer who have been treated previously with hormone therapy, as well as those with newly diagnosed advanced disease, as soon as possible.”