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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 14:33 GMT
Breast cancer drug cocktail hope
Breast tumour
The treatment could give another option to women with advanced cancer
Cancer charities have welcomed a study showing a combination of drugs could extend the disease-free time of women with advanced breast cancer.

Taking Avastin, already used to treat bowel cancer, with the chemo drug Taxol led to women surviving cancer-free for months longer than when taking Taxol.

The European Breast Cancer Conference in Nice, France, said that women with early breast cancer may also benefit.

Charities said the study was "encouraging" but more work was needed.

Some women with advanced breast cancer can benefit from the drug Herceptin, but the drug can only help those who have Her2 positive tumours - around a fifth of cases.

Maria Leadbeater, breast cancer nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: "These results could indicate a new and targeted way of effectively treating breast cancer, which specifically attacks the growth and blood supply of cancer cells.

"It is at an early stage of development but in the future may provide another treatment option for women with secondary breast cancer."

Avastin works by blocking the formation of blood vessels which effectively "suffocate" the tumour by starving it of nutrients.

Taxol directly attacks the tumour.

Approximately 41,700 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, as well as some 245 men.

It is the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, after lung and bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer treatment

In the study, an international team of researchers studied 722 women with advanced cancer.

It was found that those on the combined treatment lived for a year without seeing progression in their cancer, compared with only seven months for those who took just chemotherapy drugs.

Dr Robin Zon, who presented his team's findings to the conference, said: "These results are good news for people with breast cancer.

"A drug with a novel mode of action on the blood vessels within the cancer has no added side-effects.

"Those patients who received the test drugs kept their cancer under control for almost twice as long."

Avastin was licensed for use in Europe for advanced bowel cancer in January last year.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is currently appraising the drug for NHS use.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, added: "This is encouraging news for women with secondary breast cancer as it could increase the treatment options available to them.

"However, the analysis of these results is only preliminary and the trial needs to be completed in order to establish the long-term effectiveness and side effects of this combination of drugs."

Maria Leadbeater, breast cancer nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: "These very encouraging results could indicate a new and targeted way of effectively treating breast cancer, which specifically attacks the growth and blood supply of cancer cells.

"Further studies are needed to truly determine its effectiveness, and it would then need to undergo the drug licensing process before it can be used to treat patients.

"It is therefore at an early stage of development but in the future may provide another treatment option for women with secondary breast cancer."


SEE ALSO:
Uneven breasts linked to cancer
19 Mar 06 |  Health
Breast screening 'a life-saver'
22 Feb 06 |  Health


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