Eribulin May Be Treatment Option for Metastatic Breast Cancer

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A study suggests that an experimental chemotherapy medicine called eribulin may be a good treatment option for metastatic breast cancer that has stopped responding or failed to respond to other treatments.

The results were presented at the 2010 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting.

Eribulin is made from a sea sponge. Like some other chemotherapy medicines, eribulin works by interfering with microtubulin, a component of cells. When both healthy and cancer cells divide, microtubulin acts as a building block for the structures that make sure the cell reproduces. Microtubulin also helps sort genetic material in the cell during cell division. So interfering with microtubulin can disrupt cell division and make cancer cells die.

The EMBRACE trial looked at 762 women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer who had been treated previously with two to five other chemotherapy medicines; some of the women also had received hormonal therapy or a targeted therapy.

The women were split into three different treatment groups that got either:

  • eribulin
  • a standard treatment for metastatic breast cancer (chemotherapy medicine, hormonal therapy medicine or targeted therapy medicine) selected by the woman's doctor
  • supportive care

Compared to women who got supportive care or a standard metastatic cancer treatment, the women who got eribulin:

  • were more likely to respond to treatment: 12.2% of women responded to eribulin compared to only 4.7% of women who got a standard treatment or supportive care
  • lived longer without the cancer growing (called progression-free survival): 3.7 months with eribulin compared to 2.2 months with a standard treatment or supportive care
  • lived longer: overall survival was 13.1 months for women taking eribulin compared to 10.7 months for women getting a standard treatment or supportive care (23% better survival)

Better overall survival is important because several other new treatments have improved the length of time before the cancer starts growing again, but not overall survival. Still, the number of women who responded to eribulin (12.2%) is low. That response rate was better than the 4.7% response rate for women who got a standard treatment, but the low response rate to eribulin shows how challenging it is to treat metastatic breast cancer that has stopped responding to standard treatments.

Side effects caused by eribulin were similar to side effects caused by other chemotherapy medicines, including hair loss, neuropathy, low white blood cell counts, and fever. About 25% of women in both the eribulin group and the standard treatment group had to lower their dosage or stop treatment because of serious side effects or complications.

This study suggests that eribulin might be a good option to treat advanced-stage breast cancer that has stopped responding to other treatments. Researchers also may study eribulin as a treatment for less-advanced breast cancer.

If you're being treated for advanced-stage breast cancer, you and your doctor may be considering a number of treatment options, especially if the cancer has stopped responding to standard treatments. If you're willing to participate in a clinical trial, you may have even more options available, possibly including an experimental treatment such as eribulin. Talk to your doctor about clinical trials that might be a good fit for you and your unique situation. Visit the Breastcancer.org Clinical Trials pages for more information.

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