Monday March 25, 2019

Immunotherapy Drugs Show Significant Improvement Against Breast Cancer: Study

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts.

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Breast Cancer
. VOA

For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. But the benefit for most women was small, raising questions about whether the treatment is worth its high cost and side effects.

Results were discussed Saturday at a cancer conference in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drugs called checkpoint inhibitors have transformed treatment of many types of cancer by removing a chemical brake that keeps the immune system from killing tumor cells. Their discovery recently earned scientists a Nobel Prize. Until now, though, they haven’t proved valuable against breast cancer.

Breast Cancer
Weight loss may lower breast cancer risk for post-menopausal women. Pixabay

In the study

The new study tested one from Roche called Tecentriq plus chemo versus chemo alone in 902 women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer. About 15 percent of cases are this type, their growth is not fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or the gene that Herceptin targets, making them hard to treat.

Women in the study who received Tecentriq plus chemo went two months longer on average without their cancer worsening compared with those on chemo alone, a modest benefit. The combo did not significantly improve survival in an early look before long-term follow-up is complete.

Failed protein test

Previous studies found that immunotherapies work best in patients with high levels of a protein that the drugs target, and the plan for the breast cancer study called for analyzing how women fared according to that factor if Tecentriq improved survival overall.

breast cancer
FILE – A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice, July 26, 2012. VOA

The drug failed that test, but researchers still looked at protein-level results and saw encouraging signs. Women with high levels who received the combo treatment lived roughly 25 months on average versus about 15 months for women given chemo alone.

That’s a big difference, but it will take more time to see if there’s a reliable way to predict benefit, said Dr. Jennifer Litton of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She had no role in running the study but enrolled some patients in it and oversees 14 others testing immunotherapies.

“We’re really hopeful that we can identify a group of women who can get a much bigger and longer response,” she said.

Another breast cancer specialist with no role in the study, Dr. Michael Hassett at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said he felt “cautious excitement” that immunotherapy may prove helpful for certain breast cancer patients.

Breast Cancer
Breast cancer cell, Wikimedia Commons

Side effects and cost

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts, but serious ones were more common with the combo treatment and twice as many women on it stopped treatment for that reason.

Three of the six deaths from side effects in the combo group were blamed on the treatment itself; only one of three such deaths in the chemo group was.

Also Read: New DNA Tool To Predict People’s Height And Risk For Cancer

Cost is another concern. Tecentriq is $12,500 a month. The chemo in this study was Celgene’s Abraxane, which costs about $3,000 per dose plus doctor fees for the IV treatments. Older chemo drugs cost less but require patients to use a steroid to prevent allergic reactions that might interfere with the immunotherapy. Abraxane was chosen because it avoids the need for a steroid, said one study leader, Dr. Sylvia Adams of NYU Langone Health.

The study was sponsored by Roche and many study leaders consult or work for the company or own stock in it. (VOA)

Next Story

Exposure to Dim Light Escalates Breast Cancer’s Spread to Bones

X-ray images showed that mice exposed to a light or dim light cycle had much larger tumours and increased bone damage compared with mice kept in a standard light/dark cycle

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Cancer
Cancer Ribbon. Pixabay

Exposure to dim light at night may contribute to spreading of breast cancer to bones, researchers have shown in an animal study.

When breast cancer spreads it often affects bones, cause severe pain and make them fragile. “To date no one has reported that exposure to dim light at night induces circadian disruption, which increases spread of bone metastatic breast cancer,” said Muralidharan Anbalagan, Assistant Professor, at Tulane University in New Orleans.

The findings were presented at ENDO 2019, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

For the preliminary study, the team created a mouse model of bone metastatic breast cancer. They injected oestrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer cells, which have a low propensity to grow in bones, into the tibia (shinbone) of female mice.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient.

Like humans, mice produced a strong night-time circadian melatonin signal, shown to produce strong anti-cancer actions and for promoting sleep.

While one group of mice was kept in the light for 12 hours each day, the other group of three mice in the dark for 12 hours. Another group spent 12 hours in light, followed by 12 hours in dim light at night.

Also Read- Connecting to Free Wi-Fi can Expose your Data to Hackers

X-ray images showed that mice exposed to a light or dim light cycle had much larger tumours and increased bone damage compared with mice kept in a standard light/dark cycle, he noted.

“Our research identified the importance of an intact nocturnal circadian melatonin anti-cancer signal in suppressing bone-metastatic breast tumour growth,” Anbalagan said. (IANS)