The treatments shrank the size of brain tumors by at least 50 percent in two-thirds of the patients studied, according to a trial funded by London-based Glaxo and published today in the Lancet Oncology journal. The research included 45 women who have the HER2 gene and advanced stage breast cancer.
As many as 30 percent of women with advanced breast cancer develop secondary brain tumors. Traditionally, most of these women receive whole brain radiotherapy, which can impair cognitive function, said lead study author Thomas Bachelot of the Centre Leon Berard in Lyon, France.
“Delaying such treatment for those patients is potentially a big advance,” Bachelot said in a statement. The patients had a median of 8.3 months before they needed radiotherapy, the study found.
The results of the drug combination were similar to that from radiotherapy, also known as radiation treatment, the authors said. A direct comparison with patients who received radiotherapy wasn’t made as part of the study, limiting the findings, the researchers said. Another constraint was the small number of patients, they said.
About half of patients experienced diarrhea and fatigue, leading to treatment discontinuation in four patients, they said.
Given the side effects, further study is “urgently warranted” to compare the combination treatment with radiation, Rupert Bartsch of the Medical University of Vienna and Matthias Preusser of the Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Vienna, said in a comment accompanying the article.
Still, for patients with multiple brain metastases from HER2-positive breast cancer, the combination treatment may already be “a valid treatment option,” while in other patients, radiation is still the standard of care, Bartsch and Preusser said.
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