Researchers have been working diligently to find new, more e Researchers Investigate New Drug for Advanced Breast Cancer (dateline May 9, 2003) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

The Women's Health Resource. On the web since 1997.

Researchers Investigate New Drug for Advanced Breast Cancer (dateline May 9, 2003)

Researchers have been working diligently to find new, more effective treatments for women with advanced breast cancer, for which the chances of survival are typically much lower than for women with earlier forms of breast cancer. Case-in-point, the pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca recently reported the results of two early studies of a new drug called Iressa that may be helpful for advanced breast cancer patients. Both clinical trials showed moderate success and one study showed a reduction in some side effects of advanced breast cancer, including bone pain.

The term, metastatic, describes a cancer that has spread to distant organs from the original tumor site. Metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced stage (stage IV) of breast cancer. Cancer cells have spread past the breast and axillary (underarm) lymph nodes to other areas of the body where they continue to grow and multiply. Breast cancer commonly spreads to the bone, liver and lung, but has the potential to spread to almost any area of the body.

Because the chances of long-term survival of advanced breast cancer are considerably lower than early forms of the disease, current treatments often focus on relieving cancer symptoms and increasing survival time. Iressa is a drug currently being developed by Astra Zeneca that may help in the treatment of advanced breast cancer. Results of two clinical trials were recently reported at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December 2002 and additional trials are currently underway.

In the first clinical trial involving Iressa reported by Astra Zeneca, 63 women with metastatic advanced breast cancer between the ages of 34 and 80 were given 500 milligrams of Iressa daily. Prior to the onset of the study, all of the women in the study had experienced the continued progression of their breast cancer despite multiple treatments.

In this trial, one woman experienced a partial improvement of her cancer for a period of five months. An additional eight women experienced a stabilization of their cancers while on Iressa. Furthermore, some women reported a reduction in symptoms such as bone pain while on Iressa, prompting them to stop other pain medications.

"The results of this trial provide justification for further studies of Iressa," said lead researcher Kathy Albain, Professor of Medicine at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, in an Astra Zeneca news release. "These trials should be done in a variety of settings including patients with less advanced disease, perhaps after first remission, and also in combination with other agents."

In the second clinical trial of Iressa, Professor John Robertson from the City Hospital at the University of Nottingham in Britain presented early data on 22 women who had become resistant to treatment with the cancer drug tamoxifen. After four weeks of treatment with 500 milligrams/daily of Iressa, 10 women experienced a halt in the progression of their cancer while two women experienced a partial improvement with the drug. However, an additional five women did experience a progression of breast cancer during treatment with Iressa.

Further research with Iressa is necessary to determine whether it is a safe and effective option for women with advanced breast cancer. In the first clinical trial, side effects of Iressa included:

  • Diarrhea
  • Acne-like rash
  • Dry skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In the second clinical trial, eight patients experienced a facial rash and four patients experienced nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and diarrhea. As a result, eight patients temporarily stopped taking Iressa and later continued with a reduced dose.

Additional Resources and References