Breast Cancer Drug Kisqali Increases Survival Rates 30%
A new drug drastically improves survival rates of younger women with the most common type of breast cancer. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago researchers showed that the addition of cell-cycle inhibitor ribociclib increased survival rates to 70 percent after 3½ years. The mortality rate was nearly 30 percent less than when patients, all under 59 and pre-menopausal, were randomly assigned a placebo.
Lead researcher Sara Hurvitz reported that the study focused on breast cancer that is fueled by the hormone estrogen and accounts for two-thirds of all cases among younger women. It is generally treated by therapies that block the hormone’s production. “You actually can get synergy … by adding one of these cell-cycle inhibitors” on top of the hormone-blocking therapy, said Hurvitz. The drug works by inhibiting the activity of cancer-cell promoting enzymes.
Moreover, the treatment is less toxic than traditional chemotherapy because it more selectively targets cancerous cells, blocking their ability to multiply.
An estimated 268,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S. in 2019. The advanced form of the disease is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women ages 20 to 59.
Though advanced breast cancer is less common among younger women, its incidence grew 2 percent per year in the U.S. between 1978 and 2008 for women ages 20 to 39, according to a previous study.
The new trial, which looked at more than 670 cases, included only women who had advanced cancer — stage four — for which they had not received prior hormone-blocking therapy.
“These are patients who tend to be diagnosed later, at a later stage in their disease, because we don’t have great screening modalities for young women,” said Hurvitz.
In addition, patients who develop breast cancer early tend to have more complex cases. “That’s what makes us so excited, because it’s a therapy that’s affecting so many patients with advanced disease,” added Hurvitz.
A pill is administered daily for 21 days followed by seven days off to allow the body time to recover, since two-thirds of patients have a moderate to severe drop in white cell count.
Jamie Bennett, a spokeswoman for Novartis, which markets the drug under the brand name Kisqali and funded the research, said it will cost $12,553 for a 28-day dose. But, she added, “the majority of patients in the U.S. with commercial insurance will pay $0 per month for their Kisqali prescription.”
There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer and the majority of the women on the drug will require some form of therapy for the rest of their lives.
Moving forward, Hurvitz said she was interested in investigating whether ribociclib could help nip cancer in the bud at an earlier stage.
“We want to go and look at those women diagnosed with early stage disease, small tumors, tumors that haven’t gone to the lymph nodes or haven’t gone to other parts of the body and see if we can stop it from returning later from metastasizing,” she said.
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