It’s an exciting time in the treatment of
breast cancer. There have been lots of new developments and treatment breakthroughs.
We still can’t cure the condition, but the outlook is much more positive than it was
just a few years ago. While the survival for secondary breast cancer
has only improved modestly, the quality of that survival has changed out of all recognition.
So whereas when I started in oncology women with breast cancer would be typically spending
long periods of time in bed, they’d have pain, they would break their bones, they would have
problems with breathlessness. And he quality of life was, frankly, pretty miserable, now,
although life expectancy is shortened, most patients can, remain at work for most of that
time they can do things with their family, they are not in hospital they’re managed as
an outpatient. The outlook is so much better now because
new drug therapies have been discovered which have been effective in keeping women with
breast cancer healthier for longer. The best example in breast cancer would be
the drug Herceptin, which is an antibody which binds to this particular type of breast cancer
that has this HER 2 receptor and had been shown to make chemotherapy work better and
to keep people in remission for longer and keep them alive for longer. Now, Herceptin
is just the first of many of these targeted therapies that are coming into use and we’re
going to see many more over the next 5-10 years.
There is at least one new cytotoxic or chemotherapy agent that’s very recently become available
known as eribulin And this is a drug that’s given by intravenous injection. It’s a very
simple drug to give, it’s quite well tolerated and it’s likely to be used when other chemotherapy
drugs have stopped working. And then there are the new targeted therapies,
so the most recent to be approved in the United Kingdom and Europe is Lapatinib which is a
tablet form of treatment like Herceptin so it’s used after Herceptin has failed.
The development of new therapies for advanced breast cancer depends on clinical trials.
Clinical trials are absolutely essential if we’re going to make progress in the management
of secondary breast cancer and I would always, if there’s an opportunity, try and encourage
patients to at least think about taking part in a clinical trial. The reason that the prognosis
of breast cancer is so much better now than it was 20 years ago is because literally hundreds
of thousands of women over the years have taken part in clinical trials, we’ve learned
how to treat the cancer better.