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Benefit of immune therapy for high-risk breast cancer

Thursday February 27th, 2020

Immune therapy can substantially reduce the risk of relapse for the most aggressive form of breast cancer, researchers reported last night.

The study, led by Professor Peter Schmid of Queen Mary University of London, UK, gave the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, as well as standard chemotherapy, to 1,174 patients with early triple negative breast cancer. The treatments were given for six months prior to surgery.

Following treatment, almost 65% of patients showed no sign of cancer, compared with just over 51% who were given only chemotherapy.

The research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Professor Schmid said: “We saw a nearly 14% increase in the number of women with no cancer following chemotherapy, which is a massive step forward. It’s long been established that women with no residual cancer after preoperative treatment stand a much better chance of remaining cancer-free; so being able to substantially improve these numbers is truly exciting.

“This would be the first targeted treatment open to all women with early triple negative breast cancer.”

However, he added: “Statistically, at this early time point we’d only expect a small number of patients to experience recurrence of the disease, so we need to be cautious about these early results.

“However, even with this short timescale, patients on immunotherapy seem to be doing much better. The data to date suggest that the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy may be preventing around a third of recurrences – though it’s too early as yet for a definitive answer on that.”

Schmid, P. et al. Pembrolizumab for Early Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. New England Journal of Medicine 26 February 2020; doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1910549

Tags: Cancer | Pharmaceuticals | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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