Drugs make headway against lung, breast, prostate cancers
Chicago – Newer drugs are substantially improving the chances of survival for some people with hard-to-treat forms of lung, breast and prostate cancer, doctors reported at the world’s largest cancer conference.
Among those who have benefited is Roszell Mack Jr., who at age 87 is still able to work at a Lexington, Kentucky, horse farm, nine years after being diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his bones and lymph nodes.
“I go in every day, I’m the first one there,” said Mack, who helped test Merck’s Keytruda, a therapy that helps the immune system identify and fight cancer. “I’m feeling well and I have a good quality of life.”
The downside: Many of these drugs cost $100,000 or more a year, although what patients pay out of pocket varies depending on insurance, income and other criteria.
The results were featured Saturday and Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago and some were published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Companies that make the drugs sponsored the studies, and some study leaders have financial ties.
Here are some highlights:
Lung cancer: Immunotherapy drugs such as Keytruda have transformed the treatment of many types of cancer, but they’re still fairly new and don’t help most patients. The longest study yet of Keytruda in patients with advanced lung cancer found that 23% of those who got the drug as part of their initial therapy survived at least five years, whereas 16% of those who tried other treatments first did.
Breast cancer: The risk of this rises with age, but about 48,000 cases each year in the U.S. are in women under age 50. About 70% are “hormone-positive, HER2-negative” – that is, the cancer’s growth is fueled by estrogen or progesterone and not by the gene that the drug Herceptin targets. In a study of 672 women with such cancers that had spread or were very advanced, adding the Novartis drug Kisqali to the usual hormone blockers as initial therapy helped more than hormone therapy alone.
Prostate: The options keep expanding for men with prostate cancer that has spread beyond the gland. Standard treatment is drugs that block the male hormone testosterone, which helps these cancers grow, plus chemotherapy or a newer drug called Zytiga. Now, two other drugs have proven able to extend survival when used like chemo or Zytiga in men who were getting usual hormone therapy and still being helped by it.