Breast cancer drug gives new hope to young women with disease by improving survival by 50 per cent

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Young women with incurable breast cancer have been offered new hope after a “fantastic” drug combination was found to boost survival by more than 50 per cent.

Charities said the breakthrough is one of the greatest advances in treatment of the disease for decades – giving precious time to thousands of women with few treatment options.

They said the results, announced at the world’s largest cancer conference, in Chicago, were “indescribably good news” for patients and their families.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with 55,000 diagnoses annually.

Advanced breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in young women, with cases often more aggressive and more likely to be diagnosed in their later stages.

Medics said the trial of 672 women is the first to show improvements in survival for targeted therapies for such patients.

Researchers found that 70 per cent of women given the drug ribociclib, in combination with hormone therapy, were still alive three and a half years later.

This compared with survival rates of just 46 per cent among those given hormone therapy only.

On average, those given the new treatment lived an average of two years without disease progressing – 11 months longer than those given a placebo.

The results were announced at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual conference in Chicago and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now, said: “This is indescribably good news for patients and their families. We have known for some time that giving ribociclib with an aromatase inhibitor can slow the spread of incurable breast cancer, but to now know that it can also extend life for premenopausal patients is the new hope that so many families have been waiting for.”

She added: “It is now absolutely fantastic to see the very first evidence that ribociclib can give thousands of younger women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer more time to live. We cannot put into words what it will mean for so many women to be able to spend precious extra time with their families and create memories that will last a lifetime.”

She said the new class of drugs was “one of the greatest advances in breast cancer research in recent decades”.

“it’s vital we ensure that all patients who could benefit are able to access it,” she said.

Up to 1,500 pre-menopausal women a year with advanced cancer could benefit from the treatment.

Since last year, the NHS has recommended the drug for such cases. But experts claim only around half currently receive it.

The drug would normally cost £35,000 a year per patient. However, the NHS has negotiated an undisclosed, lower price for treatment.

Taken as a daily pill, ribociclib stops cancer cells dividing and spreading by blocking the action of two key proteins.  The trials involved those with advanced HR-positive/HER2-negative disease – the most common type of incurable breast cancer.  They were also given injections to suppress their oestrogen levels.

Lead study author Dr Sara A. Hurvitz, from UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in California, said: “This is the first study to show improved survival for any targeted therapy when used with endocrine therapy as a firstline treatment for advanced breast cancer.

“The use of ribociclib as a front-line therapy significantly prolonged overall survival, which is good news for women with this terrible disease.”

Dr Jason Carroll, breast cancer expert at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “This is the first time we’ve seen how giving new types of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors, alongside standard treatment, can improve overall survival for pre-menopausal women with breast cancer.  This is an excellent example of how understanding the underlying biology of cancer can make a big difference for patients.”

Dr Harold J. Burstein, from ASCO, said: “Advanced breast cancer in pre-menopausal women can be very aggressive. It is important and encouraging to see a targeted therapy that significantly increases survival for younger women with this disease.”

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