Experimental Eribulin May Help Treat Various Types of Metastatic Breast Cancer

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A study suggests that an experimental chemotherapy medicine called eribulin may be a good treatment option for various types of metastatic breast cancer that have stopped responding or failed to respond to other treatments. These results were presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO).

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. Eribulin is classified as a microtubule inhibitor.

The results are from a study called EMBRACE. Earlier EMBRACE results suggested that eribulin may be a good treatment option for metastatic breast cancer that had stopped responding or failed to respond to other treatments. Compared to women who got a standard treatment for metastatic breast cancer or supportive care, women treated with eribulin:

  • were more likely to respond to treatment
  • lived longer without the cancer growing
  • live longer overall

Better overall survival is important because several other new treatments for metastatic breast cancer have improved the length of time before the cancer starts growing again, but not overall survival.

These new EMBRACE results looked at how eribulin worked on cancers with various characteristics.

The researchers found that Eribulin worked on metastatic breast cancers that were:

  • hormone-receptor-positive or hormone-receptor-negative
  • HER2-positive or HER2-negative
  • in one or several locations in the body away from the breast
  • in the liver, lung, or brain (visceral metastases) or to the bone (bony metastases)
  • previously treated or not with the chemotherapy medicine Xeloda (chemical name: capecitabine)

Side effects caused by eribulin were similar to side effects caused by other chemotherapy medicines, including hair loss, neuropathy (tingling or numbness in the hands and feet), low white blood cell counts, and fever. About 25% of women who got eribulin had to lower their dosage or stop treatment because of serious side effects or complications.

These new EMBRACE results suggest that eribulin could be a useful treatment for some cancers, regardless of hormone receptor and HER2 status, or the location or severity of the cancer's spread. Researchers also may study eribulin to treat earlier-stage 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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