New breast cancer treatment can offer '10 extra months of life'
Nearly a quarter of patients with triple-negative breast cancer will not survive for more than five years
A new treatment could offer up to 10 months' extra life for women with one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, following a successful British trial.
Using a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy, the body's immune system can be tuned to attack triple-negative breast cancer, scientists found.
The research, carried out by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and St Bartholomew's Hospital, also showed that the combined treatment reduced the risk of death or the cancer progressing by up to 40%.
Professor Peter Schmid, a professor of cancer medicine at QMUL and the author of the trial, described the results as a "massive step forward".
"Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer; we have been desperately looking for better treatment options," he said. "It is particularly tragic that those affected are often young, with many themselves having young families."
Triple-negative breast cancer is one of the most deadly forms of the disease and nearly a quarter of patients diagnosed will not survive for more than five years. The standard treatment for it is chemotherapy, which most patients quickly develop resistance to. If the disease spreads to other parts of the body, survival is typically only 12 to 15 months. But with the new treatment, researchers say that survival could be extended by up to 10 months.
Schmid, who is clinical director of the breast cancer centre at St Bartholomew's Hospital, said: "We are changing how triple-negative breast cancer is treated in proving, for the first time, that immune therapy has a substantial survival benefit," he said.
"In a combined treatment approach, we are using chemotherapy to tear away the tumor's 'immune-protective cloak' to expose it, as well as enabling people's own immune system to get at it."
The new treatment combines the standard weekly chemotherapy with the immunotherapy medication, atezolizumab, once every two weeks. The combination works by chemotherapy "roughening up" the surface of the cancer, which enables the immune system to better recognise and therefore fight the cancer as a foreign object. Following the results of this trial, which were published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the new treatment is now under review by health authorities who will decide whether to offer it on the UK's National Health Service (NHS).
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