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Promising new treatment for women with triple negative metastatic breast cancer

BCNA News 25 Oct 2018

An international clinical trial has found that immunotherapy can extend the length of time before cancer grows or spreads in some women diagnosed with locally advanced or metastatic triple negative breast cancer.

Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. In the past, breast cancer was thought to be less likely to respond to immunotherapy than other types of cancers. However, clinical trials are underway in triple negative metastatic breast cancer and HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer to test the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs.

The international Phase III IMpassion 130 trial found that after 12.9 months, women who were treated with the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab in combination with chemotherapy did not experience disease progression for an average time of 7.2 months compared to 5.5 months for women who had chemotherapy alone.

The trial also found that the average overall survival increased from 17.6 months for the women receiving chemotherapy alone to 21.3 months for women who received the combination of atezolizumab and chemotherapy. Treatment with atezolizumab in combination with chemotherapy was also found to reduce the risk of the disease worsening or death by 20%.

Particular benefit was found for a subgroup of women whose tumours were PD-L1 positive (i.e. tumours that express the protein PD-L1). For women in this group, the average overall survival increased from 15.5 months for women receiving chemotherapy alone to 25 months for women treated with atezolizumab with chemotherapy.

Most side effects experienced by women on the trial were due to the chemotherapy treatment.

Findings from the IMpassion 130 trial are very welcome as the trial shows the potential for immunotherapy to become a new treatment option for women living with metastatic breast cancer. While triple negative breast cancers respond well to chemotherapy, they do not respond to hormone-blocking or trastuzumab (Herceptin) so women currently have fewer treatment options available to them.

Findings from the international IMpassion 130 trial were presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2018 Congress in Munich, Germany. Between June 2015 and May 2017, 902 women with locally advanced or metastatic triple negative breast cancer were randomly assigned to receive either the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab in combination with chemotherapy or chemotherapy alone as first line treatment. The trial took place at 246 sites in 41 countries, including Australia.

Currently, atezolizumab is not approved for sale in Australia. BCNA will keep you updated with any news about atezolizumab and other immunotherapy drugs that show promise in treating triple negative metastatic breast cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with locally advanced or metastatic triple negative metastatic breast cancer and are interested in finding out more about this study, we recommend you speak to your medical oncologist. Your medical oncologist will also be able to talk to you about clinical trials testing immunotherapy or other targeted treatments for which you may be eligible.

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