Breast cancer drug combination shows promise in saving lives

The drug can significantly reduce the chance of the disease coming back

A powerful drug combination for breast cancer could save thousands of lives, PA
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A powerful drug combination could save the lives of thousands of people with an aggressive type of breast cancer, results from a long-term study suggest.

The drug Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab, if given at the right time and in combination with chemotherapy, can stop the disease recurring in patients and increase the chance of being cured, said the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Experts led by the Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust said the drug could significantly reduce the chance of the disease coming back in patients with the most aggressive type of breast cancer.

“We had previously demonstrated that the addition of immunotherapy to preoperative chemotherapy increases the treatment response in patients with triple-negative breast cancer at the time of surgery,” said the university's Prof Peter Schmid, also clinical director at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

“We now have long-term results demonstrating that the combination therapy significantly reduces recurrences by approximately 37 per cent, including reduction of secondary breast cancer by 39 per cent.

“This means that the cure rate for these cancers is significantly increased.”

Keytruda is an immunotherapy that helps the immune system to kill cancer cells. It is already a treatment for some cancers.

The drug is given through a drip into the bloodstream, with the number of sessions depending on the type of cancer.

The trial, Keynote-522, showed the effect of adding immunotherapy to chemotherapy before patients undergo surgery to remove their tumour.

Women with early triple-negative breast cancer, where the disease had not yet spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes (Stages 2 and 3), were treated with Keytruda along with standard chemotherapy before surgery, followed by Keytruda after surgery.

After a follow-up period of more than three years, the risk of disease recurrence was 37 per cent lower in patients treated with the drug combination than in those treated with chemotherapy alone.

About 15 per cent of all breast cancers, more than 8,000 cases a year in the UK, are triple-negative.

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, senior research communications manager at Breast Cancer Now, said the study results were “exciting".

“The risk of triple-negative breast cancer returning and spreading to other parts of the body in the first few years after treatment is higher than it is for other breast cancers,” she said.

“This promising new treatment could potentially prevent more lives being lost to this devastating disease.”

Updated: February 10, 2022, 12:01 AM