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New Drug Combo And Breast Cancer Patients' Survival

    Dec-15-2009

Women who have been enduring advanced stage of breast cancer may get some respite from the news that now they have the opportunity to avail an innovative healing alternative. In fact, some doctors have recently stated that a combination of two drugs that are more accurately directed at healing tumors to some extent have shown to prolong the lives of women who had not been reacting to other medications.

Actually, this was the first major study by scientists who combined two drugs - Herceptin and Tykerb, and tested the amalgam in as many as 300 women suffering from advanced stage of breast cancer. According to reports, the study involved 300 breast cancer patients who were given both the drugs together and it was found that they survived for about five months more compared to others who were given only Tykerb. The results of the study have excited the doctors who are of the view that breast cancer patients who were not in an advanced stage would benefit more from this new combination of drugs. Substantiating their view, the doctors said that when the new combo drug could prolong the survival of breast cancer patients on the verge of death, it may be expected to perform better on patients whose condition was less serious.

Echoing the views of the other doctors, Dr. Jennifer Litton, a breast cancer specialist associated with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said that they were excited since it is not quite normal to find breast cancer patients in advanced stage who have already had six therapies earlier responding to new medications. But this study was exceptional and even the survival of patients on facing immediate death was prolonged. In addition, the positive results achieved by the new study are in clearly distinct from the findings of two other previous researches where scientists gave the subjects Avastin, a medication which was approved for treatment of breast cancer under controversial situation, did not help in extending the survival of the patients. In fact, treatment with Avastin requires taking two infusions of the drug every month costing the patients or their families a whopping $30,000, inclusive of the fees for administering the medication. However, Genentech, the manufacturer of Avastin, has clarified that they only charge an average wholesale price of $7,700 for providing a month's supply of the drug.

Dr. Jennifer Litton further said that taking into account the side effects, such as tardy healing of wounds, kidney problems and blood clotting in the lungs, owing to the use of Avastin, the survival advantage would actually have made the cost of the medication less excruciating to take. In fact, Dr. Litton did not have any responsibility in any of the three studies that were published by the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Technically speaking, both the drugs Herceptin and Tykerb target a protein known as HER-2 that is produced in unusually large amounts in approximately 25 per cent of all cases of breast cancer. While Herceptin obstructs this protein on the exterior of the cell, Tykerb performs the same action within the cell. According to Dr. Kimberly Blackwell of Duke University, using a combination of the two drugs is akin to using a double break on the tumor. In case the first medication fails to perform its role, the second one is always there to accomplish the job. In fact, Dr. Kimberly led the team that undertook the study with the new combo drug.

Subjects who were involved in the study conducted on the new combo drug had already been administered Herceptin either individually or in combination with several other chemotherapy medication and their condition was reported to be deteriorating further. During this process, the scientists randomly used Tykerb alone or in combination with Herceptin to find out the combination of drugs that assisted Herceptin to salvage its efficacy. The average extension of survival of these breast cancer patients in advanced stage was evaluated only after approximately three-fourths of the patients had died after two years from the start of the study. It was found that the survival of the patients who were given the combination of Herceptin and Tykerb was extended by 61 weeks in comparison to those who were given only Tykerb survived 41 weeks longer.

This figure, however, appears to be under valuing the actual benefit of the combination drug as women who were using Tykerb alone were permitted to take Herceptin additionally at some point during the course of the study if their condition seemed to deteriorate further. Dr. Blackwell said that such patients took Herceptin and their survival was prolonged. It may be mentioned here that one woman who took the combination drug suffered blood clot that proved to be fatal. Using Herceptin and Tykerb resulted in another common, but serious side effect and that was diarrhea. As many as seven to eight per cent of the breast cancer patients in advanced stage who took the combo drug suffered from this side effect.

It may be mentioned here that while Tykerb costs anything between $5,000 and $6,000 per month, a month's supply of Herceptin is available for around $10,000. According to the breast cancer chief at the Dana-Faber Cancer Center located in Boston, Dr. Eric Winer, numerous researches now demonstrate that using Herceptin is still effective for breast cancer patients even when their cancer appears to be deteriorating further.

Like Dr. Jennifer Litton, Dr. Eric Winer also does not have any kind of relation with any drug manufacturer whatsoever. He describes the new combo drug as a huge barricade on a super highway. He says that ultimately, the cancer finds an evasion route by taking a course off the ramp. Nevertheless, Dr. Winer agrees that the disease is not always very proficient in taking the off ramp route and continue to devastate the patient.

Dr. Winer went on to say that Herceptin still continues to be effective for breast caner patients. However, the same cannot be said for Avastin that functions by restraining the blood supply to the tumor. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the use of Avastin for treating breast cancer in patients whose malignant tumors had extended further than the breast. In fact, the FDA had approved the use of Avastin ignoring the opposition of the advisors of the body who called for more confirmation of the advantages of the drug for the patients. And now the apprehensions of the FDA consultants have come true as two new major international researches have proved that Avastin simply delays the period breast cancer takes to deteriorate and generally had no impact on extending the survival of the patients. In fact, the FDA has also approved Avastin for the treatment of brain, lung and colon cancers. Contrary to the FDA's findings, the new studies have demonstrated that the use of Avastin has no affect whatsoever in patients enduring these conditions.

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