Scientists make a major breakthrough in breast cancer treatment

·2-min read

A group of scientists say they are "thrilled" at the results of a breast cancer treatment clinical trial, which has identified a possible new treatment for women with early-stage breast cancer who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations.

People with such mutations have increased risk of several cancers, most notably breast and ovarian cancer (but others too), and are more likely to develop cancer at younger ages than people who do not have the gene variant.

The trial tested the effectiveness of a drug called olaparib, which until now has only been used for patients with advanced cancer. In this study, which was conducted by numerous bodies including London’s Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and has just been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 1,836 patients took part. All had previously received chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, and half the group were then given olaparib, while the other half were given a placebo.

The results of the study – which has been named the OlympiA trial – showed that after a median 2.5 years of follow-up, 85.9% of patients who had taken the drug remained free of their cancer, where just 77.1% who had received a placebo had the same outcome. This equates to a 42% overall drop in the risk of cancer returning.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

The research also concluded that use of the olaparib drug following chemotherapy reduced risk of the risk of cancer spreading by 43%. It shows that it could be an effective treatment for the "curative" and not just the advanced stage of cancer, say the scientists involved.

Professor Andrew Tutt, who's a professor of oncology at the ICR and chairs the OlympiA study steering committee, spoke about the study's results in a statement. "We are thrilled that our global academic and industry partnership in OlympiA has been able to help identify a possible new treatment option for women with early-stage breast cancer who have inherited mutations in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes," he said.

"Women with early-stage breast cancer who have inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are typically diagnosed at a younger age. Up to now, there has been no treatment that specifically targets the unique biology of these cancers to reduce the rate of recurrence, beyond initial treatment such as surgery, hormone treatment, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

It's definite cause for celebration, and hopefully in future the drug can be used to save many more women's lives.

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