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Drug combo better for common type of metastatic breast cancer, UCI-led study finds

New treatment option extends median survival time by more than 6 months

— Irvine, Calif., August 01, 2012 —

Postmenopausal women with the most common type of metastatic breast cancer now have a new treatment option that lengthens their lives, according a study led by UC Irvine oncologist Dr. Rita Mehta and conducted by the Southwest Oncology Group. The findings appear in the Aug. 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

A combination of the two anti-estrogen drugs anastrozole and fulvestrant extended the median survival time of women with Stage 4 hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer by more than six months compared to those who underwent standard treatment with anastrozole alone.

Mehta said the results of the Phase 3 trial are particularly exciting because “these patients have not had a new treatment that gave them an overall survival benefit in more than a decade.”

Both drugs are currently used to treat breast cancer, though not in combination. Anastrozole (also known as Arimidex) reduces the production of tumor-promoting estrogen, while fulvestrant (Faslodex) interferes with the receptors that allow estrogen to signal cells to grow and reproduce and also accelerates the degradation of these receptors.

The researchers think it’s these modes of action together that make the combination so effective against hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, a subtype that accounts for more than half of all breast cancers.

“The next step would be to try the combination in even earlier stages of breast cancer to see whether long-term cures could be increased at those stages,” said Mehta, an associate clinical professor of medicine with the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and an oncologist with UC Irvine’s Breast Health Center.

Study results were first presented at the 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December. The SWOG S0226 trial was conducted by the SWOG clinical trials network, previously known as the Southwest Oncology Group.

William E. Barlow and Danika L. Lew of the SWOG Statistical Center in Seattle; Dr. Kathy S. Albain of the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine; Dr. Ted A. Vandenberg of the London Health Sciences Centre/National Cancer Institute of Canada Clinical Trials Group; Dr. Shaker R. Dakhil of the Wichita Community Clinical Oncology Program in Kansas; Dr. Nagendra R. Tirumali, of the Northwest Community Clinical Oncology Program/Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Ore.; Dr. Daniel F. Hayes of the University of Michigan; Dr. Julie R. Gralow of the Puget Sound Cancer Consortium/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle; Dr. Robert B. Livingston of the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson; and Dr. Gabriel N. Hortobagyi of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston also participated in the study, which received support from the National Cancer Institute — one of the National Institutes of Health — and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP of Wilmington, Del.

About UC Irvine Medical Center: Orange County’s only university hospital, UC Irvine Medical Center offers acute- and general-care services at its new, 482,000-square-foot UC Irvine Douglas Hospital and is home to the county’s only Level I trauma center, American College of Surgeons-verified regional burn center and National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. For 12 consecutive years, U.S. News & World Report has counted UC Irvine among “America’s Best Hospitals.”

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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Dr. Rita Mehta
UC Irvine
Dr. Rita Mehta says study results are particularly exciting because “these patients have not had a new treatment that gave them an overall survival benefit in more than a decade.”

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