Pill Fights Deadly Breast Cancer
Experimental Drug Tykerb Shows Promise as Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treatment
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 15, 2006 (San Antonio) -- A once-a-day pill shows promise for the
treatment of inflammatory breast cancerbreast
cancer, a rare but often deadly form of the disease.
Reporting at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium,
researchers say the experimental drug, Tykerb, halted the growth of
inflammatory breast cancer.
If the findings can be repeated in larger studies, the experimental cancer
drug may offer a new targeted approach to fighting highly deadly breast tumors,
says Eric Winer, MD, head of breast cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
in Boston and moderator of the session at which the research was presented.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Breast Cancer
While it represents only about 1% of breast cancer diagnosed in the U.S.,
inflammatory breast cancer is extremely aggressive, says researcher Massimo
Cristofanilli, MD, associate professor in the department of breast medical
oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Unlike other breast tumors that are characterized by a lump, symptoms of
inflammatory breast cancer include redness, swelling, and warmth in the
The skin may appear reddish, purple, or bruised, and have ridges. Other
symptoms include burning, aching or tenderness, an increase in breast size, and
an inverted nipple.
Due to both its rapid growth and unusual symptoms, inflammatory breast
cancer is often not diagnosed until after the disease has spread to other parts
of the body, Cristofanilli tells WebMD. About 60% of women are dead five years
The new study is the first to test a treatment specifically for this
condition, according to Cristofanilli.
Developed by GlaxoSmithKline, Tykerb zeroes in on two related proteins --
HER2 and EGFR -- that sit on the surface of inflammatory breast cancer cells and play a critical role in
the growth and spread of the cancer.
In excess, both HER2 and EGFR are some of the worst culprits instigating
cancer spread. They have a direct effect on cancer cells, stimulating the cells
to proliferate, migrate, and spread.
Tykerb attaches to these proteins, thereby blocking their action and slowing
or stopping the growth of tumor cells.
GlaxoSmithKline is a WebMD sponsor, and the company supported this
Breast Tumors Shrink
The researchers studied two groups of women: 30 women whose tumors had high
levels of HER2, and five women whose tumors had high levels of EGFR but not
All took one Tykerb pill once a day for at least two weeks. Then, for three
months, they added a common chemotherapy drug, paclitaxel, once a week. That
was followed by surgery.
Results showed that tumors shrank by at least 50% in 30 of the 35 women. The
disease progressed in only one woman.
Of the 21 women who had completed surgery, three showed no evidence of
breast cancer under the microscope. According to Cristofanilli, this indicates
a good response and possibly improved inflammatory breast cancer survival.
Tykerb was generally well-tolerated. Side effects included mild skin rashes and diarrhea that could be easily treated with
over-the-counter medications, he says.
"While preliminary, the findings are encouraging, suggesting that in
this group of women, [Tykerb] plus paclitaxel is a very effective and easy
therapy," Dana-Farber's Winer tells WebMD.