Four Key Areas Are Focus of ASCO/SABCS Highlights

Anita T. Shaffer @Shaffer1
Published: Wednesday, Mar 14, 2012

Debu Tripathy

Debu Tripathy, MD
Co-Leader, Women’s Cancer Program
Professor of Medicine, Priscilla and Art Ulene Chair In Women’s Cancer
USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA

Studies that may lead to the approval of two new treatments and data that reveal new options for prevention and radiotherapy are among the breast cancer research highlights that will be reviewed today at the opening session of the 29th Annual Miami Breast Cancer Conference.

Notable research that includes findings with practice-changing potential will be discussed by Debu Tripathy, MD, co-leader of the Women’s Cancer Program at the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Tripathy culled the highlights from abstracts presented in 2011 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, and at the CCTR-AARC San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) in Texas.

Tripathy, in an interview before his presentation, identified key studies in four areas:

Exemestane Prevents Cancer in High-Risk Women

The aromatase inhibitor exemestane significantly reduced the risk of invasive breast cancer among postmenopausal women at high risk for the disease with a reasonable adverse event profile, demonstrating a new preventive option.

The MAP.3 trial enrolled 4560 postmenopausal women between 2004 and 2010 with one or more risk factors for breast cancer (aged >60 yr, Gail score >1.66%, prior atypical ductal hyperplasia, and atypical lobular hyperplasia). Participants who were randomized to receive exemestane experienced a 65% lower risk of developing cancer (annual incidence of 0.19 vs 0.55%) compared with those who received a placebo.

Tripathy said the current alternatives of tamoxifen and raloxifene lower risk by 50%, but their use is limited by adverse events that include rare but dangerous effects such as thrombosis and uterine cancers observed with tamoxifen. Exemestane side effects include hot flashes, fatigue, and insomnia, according to the study. Tripathy noted that exemestane also lowers bone mineral density but that such effects can be counteracted with other therapies.

Study Supports Early-Stage Regional Nodal Irradiation

Controversy continues over whether patients with a lower number of positive nodes after breast-conserving surgery should be treated with regional nodal radiation, a strategy that is infrequently employed in the United States but is a more common practice in Canada and Europe.

The MA.21 trial demonstrated that women with 1 to 3 positive nodes or other risk factors after surgery experienced a significant improvement in 5-year disease-free survival with extended radiation compared with those who did not receive the treatments (89.7 vs 84%, respectively). Both groups received standard breast irradiation of 50 Gy +/1 boost while the extended radiation group received 45Gy in 25 fractions to the internal mammary, supraclavicular, and high axillary lymph nodes.

Extended radiation “improved not only local recurrences but also distant recurrences,” said Tripathy. “There’s no difference in survival yet, but the fact that it had an impact on distant recurrence has raised a lot of eyebrows. It remains to be seen how this affects the selection criteria for extended nodal irradiation, which may also have longer term side effects that are not yet apparent.”

Dual Blockades Promising in Advanced Breast Cancer

Much excitement was generated at SABCS as a result of two phase III trials that employed dual inhibitors of cell-signaling pathways with notable results.

The BOLERO-2 trial involved postmenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive metastatic disease. A marked improvement in time to progression was evident when the mTOR inhibitor everolimus (Afinitor) was added to second-line exemestane hormonal therapy (11.0 mo vs 4.1 mo; hazard ratio = 0.36).

In the CLEOPATRA trial, the novel agent pertuzumab significantly improved progression-free survival (PFS) in women with metastatic HER2-positive disease when added to docetaxel plus trastuzumab (Herceptin). The pertuzumab group experienced a PFS of 18.5 months versus 12.4 months for those in the control arm.

Pertuzumab is a first-in-class inhibitor of HER2 dimerization, and trastuzumab blocks HER2. Genentech, a member of the Roche group, has filed an application with the FDA for the use of pertuzumab in patients with previously untreated HER2-positive metastatic disease.

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