Metastasis is a word that does not sit well with cancer patients.
According to Cancer.Net, Metastasis is a cancer that spreads to a different part of the body from where it started. For Breast Cancer patients, metastasis usually means progression – the involvement of the bones, the lungs and the brain.
Survivor Suzanne Herbert is no stranger to this word. She was diagnosed at a fairly young age – at just 39 years old. The cancer had already spread to her spine when doctors found the disease. For the past 7 years, she had gone through multiple therapies to fight against Stage 4 Breast Cancer.
The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas
Despite repeated failure of treatments, Suzanne was not one to give up. She joined a Phase 1 Clinical Trial based in MD Anderson in Texas where doctors put her in a novel treatment combination of everolimus and arimidex. Everolimus was previously used to treat kidney and brain tumors while arimidex is an estrogen decreasing drug.
Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi, professor and chairman of MD Anderson‘s Department of Breast Medical Oncology, said that for the first time, combination therapies were proven to be more effective than a single hormonal treatment especially in patients who have already undergone hormonal therapy.
Statistics show that 5% of women will be diagnosed at the metastatic stage with a 26% 5-year survival rate.
A total of 724 metastatic breast cancer patients were enrolled into the international Phase 3 trial. The participants were post-menopausal women who have been exhaustively treated with hormone therapy treatments. Out of the population, 485 participants received combination treatment and 239 received a placebo with antiestrogen Exemestane.
The results were promising: combination therapy lead to 7.4 months of progression free survival compared to the 3.2 months for the placebo group.
Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi
“These findings may allow us to change our approach. In this group of heavily pre-treated patients, all of whom progressed on prior endocrine therapy, the addition of this mTOR inhibitor resulted in significant prolongation of progression-free survival and an improved response rate, with only a modest addition of toxicity.” Hortobagyi said.
The good news is that this is not the only drug combination that may produce the same results. The CLEOPATRA (CLinical Evaluation Of Pertuzumab And TRAstuzumab) Study found that adding pertuzumab (a medication that is believed to slow tumor growth) and certain chemotherapy drugs can lengthen progression-free survival by an average 6.1 months.
After three months, Suzanne finally received good news. The tumor in her liver tumor shrunk by 21% and the other cancers were not progressing further. Aside from the breakthrough results, Suzanne also noted that the side effects of the novel treatment were more bearable than those of traditional chemotherapy.
For those battling metastatic breast cancer, knowing that the disease will not progress further brings new hope. A “progression-free survival” certainly brings light to an otherwise endless dark tunnel in cancer.