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Bone Drug vs. Breast Cancer

Zometa Plus Chemo Shrinks Breast Cancer Tumors More Than Chemo Alone
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WebMD Health News

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Dec. 11, 2008 (San Antonio) - Adding the bone-building drug Zometa to chemotherapy shrinks breast tumors better than chemo alone, researchers report.

Zometa is currently used to help prevent the bone loss associated with some cancer treatments. "But in the last two years, there's been a suggestion that it may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence as well," says Robert Coleman, MD, professor of medical oncology at the University of Sheffield in England.

He and colleagues put the drug to the test in 205 women with breast cancer. Prior to surgery to remove their tumors, half were given chemo and half were given chemo plus Zometa. The study was sponsored by Novartis AG, which makes Zometa.

Tumors shrank to 20.5 millimeters in size in the Zometa group, compared with 30 millimeters in the chemotherapy-alone group. "And even after the analysis took into account other factors that can affect tumor size (such as whether the tumor is fueled by hormones), there was still a better response with Zometa," Coleman tells WebMD.

Also, tumors completely disappeared in 11% of women on Zometa vs. 6% of women given chemo alone.

As a result, fewer women given Zometa required a mastectomy rather than breast-conserving surgery to remove their tumor, he says. About three-fourths of women in the chemotherapy group underwent a mastectomy vs. two-thirds in the combination group.

"This is the first evidence in humans that this drug may have a direct anticancer effect," Coleman says.

Claudine J. Isaacs, MD, director of the breast cancer program at Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., says the findings suggest a new use for Zometa in fighting breast cancer.

If confirmed in larger, longer studies, "we should consider giving Zometa for its antitumor effects alone," she tells WebMD.

The research was presented at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Aromatase Inhibitors vs. Tamoxifen

Also at the meeting, researchers reported new evidence that postmenopausal women with early breast cancer fare slightly better if they are treated with newer drugs called aromatase inhibitors than if they are given standard hormone therapy.

In one study of nearly 5,000 women, those who were given the aromatase inhibitor Femara were less likely to have their cancer come back, compared with those who were given standard tamoxifen. And there was even a hint that they'd live longer if they opted for Femara.

The study included 4,922 postmenopausal women who were given either tamoxifen or Femara after breast cancer surgery. It was funded by Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp., which makes Femara.

Nearly six years later, Femara lowered the risk of relapse by a significant 12%. Women taking Femara were also 13% less likely to die than those given tamoxifen, but the finding could have been due to chance.

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