Scientists have expressed optimism for women with hard-to-treat breast cancer after a new chemotherapy regime proved it can shrink tumours twice as fast as normal methods.
Women with aggressive “triple-negative” disease fare much better on a non-standard chemotherapy drug if they have inherited BRCA gene mutations, the results of a trial showed.
Currently most patients with this type of breast cancer, which does not respond to hormone therapies or the targeted drug Herceptin, are treated with the chemotherapy agent docetaxel.
But the new trial findings show that those with defective versions of the genes BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 are much more likely to benefit from a different chemo drug, carboplatin.
A total of 376 women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer took part in the trial, including 43 who had BRCA gene faults.
Among the BRCA mutation carriers, carboplatin shrank tumours in 68 per cent of cases, while docetaxel only had a 33 per cent success rate.
Carboplatin also produced fewer side-effects and delayed tumour progression for months longer in women with BRCA mutations.
The results are likely to change international guidelines by introducing genetic testing for women with triple-negative breast cancer.
Lead researcher Andrew Tutt, Professor of Breast Oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “Our study has found that women with triple-negative breast cancer who have BRCA 1 or 2 mutations are twice as likely to respond to carboplatin as they are to standard treatment.
BRCA mutations may impair the ability of cancer cells to repair the genetic damage caused by carboplatin, the scientists believe.
The study, funded by the charities Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and Breast Cancer Now, is published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Professor Charles Swanton, CRUK’s chief clinician, said: “This exciting study brings us a step closer to delivering precise care to patients with breast cancer.
“Rather than offering all women the same standard of care, these results show that, for patients with inherited BRCA mutations, the drug carboplatin is not only a more effective treatment option, but also comes with fewer side-effects, sparing patients possible health problems, physical discomfort and emotional distress.”
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, described the findings as a “landmark and long-awaited step forward”.
“Using this simple test enables us to guide treatment for women within this type of breast cancer.
I am keen for these findings to be brought into the clinic as soon as possible.”
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.