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Scientists announce ‘major breakthrough’ in breast cancer treatment

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Lara Adejoro

Scientists say they have made a breakthrough in the treatment of breast cancer by using a drug named olaparib after chemotherapy.

According to the scientists, their study which looked at the use of olaparib at an early stage of the disease has indicated that using the drug on women following chemotherapy has a significant effect in reducing the risk of inherited breast cancer either returning or spreading, Yahoo News reports.

The trial was conducted by a series of partners worldwide, including London’s Institute of Cancer Research. The result from the trial has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

A total of 1,836 patients were given either olaparib, which exploits a genetic weakness in cancer cells, or a placebo for a year. 

Results showed that there was a 42 percent overall drop in the risk of cancer returning in those who were given the drug.

The trial illustrated that after an average of 2.5 years of follow-up, 85.9 percent of patients were cancer-free. This compared to 77.1 percent who had received a placebo.

Meanwhile, 87.5 percent of patients treated with olaparib, who had cancer that had spread to other parts of the body, were free of the disease. This compared to 80.4 percent who had been given a placebo and illustrated a 43 percent overall drop in the risk of cancer spreading.

Up until now, olaparib has only been used in the treatment of advanced cancers. 

The study, also known as the OlympiA trial, has shown that the drug is effective at the early, “curative” stage, say researchers.

The London’s Institute of Cancer Research explained said olaparib could become a more widely used treatment option, noting that it could “reduce the risk of recurrence or metastasis in women with inherited forms of high-risk early breast cancer,” which in turn “could lead to more patients being cured.”

On the efficacy, the researchers said the percentage of patients alive and free of invasive disease at three years was 85.9 percent in the olaparib group and 77.1 percent in the placebo group. 

“Invasive disease-free survival was significantly longer among patients assigned to receive olaparib than among those assigned to receive placebo (hazard ratio, 0.58; 99.5% CI, 0.41 to 0.82; P<0.001). 

“Events of invasive disease or death were reported in 106 patients in the olaparib group and 178 patients in the placebo group. The frequency of each type of event was lower with olaparib than with placebo,” the researchers noted.

According to Yahoo News, the London Institute of Cancer Research Chief Executive, Prof. Paul Workman, called the discovery a “major breakthrough.”

He said: “Olaparib was the first cancer drug in the world to target inherited genetic faults. It is also now the first targeted drug to have been shown to effectively treat patients with inherited mutations and early-stage breast cancer, potentially curing some women of their disease.”

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