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Breast Cancer Drug Eribulin Extends Survival

Study Shows Drug for Advanced Breast Cancer Extends Life 2.5 Months Longer Than Current Treatments

Comparing Breast Cancer Treatments continued...

Serious adverse events occurred in 25% of the eribulin patients and 26% of those on other treatments.  Five percent of the women on eribulin developed febrile neutropenia, a potentially life-threatening problem of low white blood cells counts, fever, and infections, compared to 2% of the other group.

Side effects of weakness and fatigue were the most commonly reported in both groups, with 52% of those on eribulin and 40% of those in other groups reporting these symptoms. Tingling, prickling, and numbness of the fingers and toes (peripheral neuropathy) was the most common reason for women to drop out of the eribulin group, with 24 patients doing so.

The drug, derived from sea sponges, works by targeting the scaffolding within a cell, Twelves tells WebMD. "When a cell divides, the scaffolding helps it. What the eribulin does is interfere with the construction of the scaffolding and stops the cancer cell from dividing."

Finding a Place in Cancer Treatment

"It's very well tolerated," says Joanne Mortimer, MD, director of the Women’s Cancers Program at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif., who has used the drug in about a dozen of her patients. She has no ties to Eisai Inc.

She agrees with Twelves that the new drug will become the new standard for women whose previous breast cancer treatments have not worked.

"Yes, people are fatigued, but the fatigue doesn't seem to be as bad as some chemotherapy treatments we use," she says. "There is hair loss but no one [of her patients so far] has required a wig."

In a comment linked to the study, researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School say many questions remain about the treatment, including whether certain patients or tumor subtypes may especially benefit and at what point would treatment be futile.

They acknowledge, however, that the trial ''provides much needed, high-level evidence of chemotherapy use in patients with heavily treated breast cancer."

Judee Shuler, a spokeswoman for Eisai, tells WebMD in an email that the company believes the drug's price reflects the value the drug brings to cancer patients and society.

The company offers an assistance program. Coverage varies by insurance plans, according to Shuler. The cost of a vial or dose is listed as $850 on the company's web page.

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