Can Giving Drugs to Breast Cancer Patients Before Surgery Save Lives?
(NEW YORK) -- Breast cancer is difficult to treat and, once treated, the potential for recurrence looms large. So instead of just treating breast cancer after it returns, there is also great research interest in giving drugs prior to surgery. The hope is that if they can shrink the tumor before the surgery, it will reduce the chance of recurrence and hopefully extend patients lives.
In research released Wednesday in the New England Journal, two studies suggest that Avastin, a drug recently taken off the market for use in metastatic breast cancer, might have potential to shrink breast tumors before surgery.
The studies were conducted in Europe and North America. The European study enrolled 1,948 patients. The results were particularly interesting for a group of patients suffering from a form of “triple negative” breast cancer, which is less common but more aggressive. Dr. Gary Lyman of Duke University, who was a member of the Food and Drug Administration panel that voted to remove Avastin’s approval for metastatic breast cancer, says that this group of patients represents 15,000 to 20,000 of all 200,000 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer.
According to the study, patients with this type of breast cancer that received Avastin along with standard therapy had greater rates -- about 11 percent -- of complete tumor disappearance. However, researchers noted that Avastin resulted in a greater rate of toxic effects such as high blood pressure, skin reactions and infections.
The North American study enrolled 1,206 patients and also showed that patients receiving Avastin significantly increased the rate of complete tumor disappearance, by 6 percent.
Dr. Stefan Gluck of the University of Miami says, “We oncologists need to assess and chose very wisely. Triple negative cancers are usually very aggressive and not sensitive to chemotherapy, so the addition of Avastin can help at least temporarily.”
Dr. Lyman agrees and says, “Women in earlier stage of disease should be considered candidates, although we haven’t learned which specific patients will benefit the most. The results of these studies do not improve overall survival but can be given to patients prior to surgery to reduce tumor burden and improve surgical outcomes.”
Most experts concur with this sentiment and recommend that further studies showing improvement in survival are necessary.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio