February 28, 2012
A Giant Little Step In Cancer Treatment Opening Up New Therapeutic Horizons
A study by the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology reveals a potential new strategy that could offer an unprecedented key to multiplying treatment options
A study headed up by the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) heralds a new horizon in the fight against cancer, opening up a parallel dimension to existing treatment options. The data, published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, demonstrate that by combining two drugs that had already been used on a patient in the past but had stopped working, they boost each other's efficacy and at the same time manage to break down the patient's resistance to each of them individually, presenting a third potential treatment option for clinically advanced metastatic tumors.
Breast tumors occur most frequently in Western women. In Spain alone, some 24,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and it is calculated that one in every eight or nine women in this country will suffer from breast cancer. Although the many advances over recent years in screening, early diagnosis and treatments have dramatically reduced mortality from this disease, there are still breast tumors whose biological characteristics make them more aggressive. Around 15% of breast tumors are HER2 positive and fall into this category. Moreover, they tend to affect younger women. In spite of the fact that this group has benefited tremendously from specific biological therapies targeted at this subtype (monoclonal antibodies), many tumors continue to advance and metastasize. "When a patient with this breast cancer subtype stops responding to the initial drug and the disease progresses, a second drug is administered. It may be that the response to these two treatments is negligible or there may even be no response at all and the tumor continues to grow. If we then treat the patients with the two drugs in combination, even though they ceased to function individually, what we have found is that almost 50% of the tumors responded to this combination and did so very positively, showing a clear improvement or keeping the disease stable for a considerable period of time", concluded Dr CortÃ©s.
In the fight against cancer, the combination of treatments is highly common practice. However, the concept described is different: it is not about seeing the results of combining drug A with drug B, but, when A fails to work, B is administered, and if this also fails we return to the starting point and initiate treatment with a combination of the two (A + B). This strategy could offer an unprecedented key to multiplying treatment options.
In the specific case of this study, we administered trastuzumab (the first-choice treatment for HER2 positive breast cancer); when the tumor continued growing we used pertuzumab (currently pending approval) and when the cancer continued to progress we administered the two together. "The results were very positive and highly informative for new studies", said Dr CortÃ©s.
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