New drug regimen may help advanced breast cancer patients


  • Carrie Printz


Illustration 1.

Women with advanced breast cancer may benefit from a new drug regimen that combines new drugs usually given as single agents, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.1

Lead author Rita Mehta, MD, of the University of California at Irvine, and colleagues found that the combination of the drugs anastrozole (Arimidex) and fulvestrant (Faslodex) enabled women to live 6 months longer than those who took anastrozole alone followed by fulvestrant after the disease progressed. Anastrozole is an aromatase inhibitor that is taken daily. Fulvestrant, which is given by injection, binds to estrogen receptors, blocking the effect estrogen has on cancer cells.

The study is the first to indicate that combination hormonal therapy alone without chemotherapy improves survival in advanced breast cancer, says coauthor Kathy Albain, MD, a breast cancer specialist at Loyola University Medical Center in Proviso, Illinois. She adds that the study will likely change the standard of care for these patients.

The study included 707 postmenopausal women with hormone-receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer. Approximately one-half the participants were randomly assigned to receive the drugs in combination whereas the others received them consecutively. Women who received the standard regimen survived a median of 41.3 months, whereas those who received the drugs in combination survived a median of 47.7 months.

At the same time, it took a median of 13.5 months for the disease to progress in women who underwent the standard regimen compared with a median of 15 months for women who took the drugs in combination. For women who had not previously taken tamoxifen, the combination treatment produced even greater benefits.

Side effects were similar for both groups, although the combination group experienced more severe side effects, including 1 stroke and 2 pulmonary embolisms.