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Two new cancer pills show ‘unprecedented’ results in boosting survival rates and preventing recurrence

Potentially “practice-changing” results from two new cancer drug studies were introduced at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)’s annual meeting this week in Chicago.

For lung cancer patients, a drug called osimertinib — taken by pill once daily — was shown to reduce the risk of deaths by more than 50% in a long-running international study.

For breast cancer patients, a new drug called ribociclib significantly increased survival rates and prevented recurring disease in a separate study.

“Targeted therapies have been a major advance in treating deadly cancers,” Dr. Marc Siegel, professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Fox News Digital.

New drug cuts lung cancer deaths in half, study finds

Lung cancer is responsible for a majority of cancer deaths in the U.S. for both men and women, with 238,340 new cases expected in 2023, per the American Cancer Society.

AstraZeneca

A drug called osimertinib, also known as Tagrisso and made by AstraZeneca, was shown to significantly reduce lung cancer deaths in a study. (iStock)

To help reduce those numbers, Dr. Roy Herbst, the deputy director of the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut, led a trial that explored the effectiveness of a drug called osimertinib, which is also known as Tagrisso and is made by AstraZeneca.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on June 4, looked at patients who had been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. 

When diagnosed in later stages, this very common type of lung cancer is prone to recurrence, according to a press release published on the Yale School of Medicine’s website.

“ADAURA (the name of the trial) used osimertinib in the setting of lung cancer where patients already had surgery, and the results are impressive,” said Herbst in the release. “We’re moving this effective drug therapy into the earliest stages of disease.”

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The higher survival rates were seen regardless of whether patients had received chemotherapy.

Woman taking pill

Potentially “practice-changing” results from two new cancer drug studies were introduced at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting this week in Chicago. (iStock)

“When we treat the cancer early, we prevent it from spreading to the brain, to the liver, to the bones,” said Herbst. “In this trial, we took advantage of the efficacy of osimertinib and used it earlier, and it resulted in a really phenomenal impact on survival.”

He added, “That’s practice-changing, and it helps people live longer with lung cancer.”

“This has led to an unprecedented – and honestly amazing – 88% five-year survival in these lung cancer patients, a considerable improvement from the 78% seen in the placebo,” Nair also said.

“It’s undeniable that this drug had a strong effect in protecting against spread to the brain and other sites.”

Lung cancer scans

Out of a total of 682 lung cancer patients, 88% of those who took osimertinib after having surgery survived for the next five years, compared to 78% from the placebo group. (iStock)

The findings of this decades-long study are of particular importance to several categories of patients who are more likely to have this type of mutation in their lung cancer, including women, young adults, those with Asian ethnicity and non-smokers, said Nair. 

Breast cancer drug shown to slash recurrence by a quarter

Breast cancer represents about 30% of all new female cancers each year. 

It is expected that in 2023, about 297,790 women will be diagnosed and 43,700 will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

“It’s undeniable that this drug had a strong effect in protecting against spread.”

This type of cancer recurs in about a third of stage II patients following standard-of-care treatment and in more than half of people with stage III disease, the study authors stated, per a press release from ASCO. 

Woman with cancer

For breast cancer patients, a new drug called ribociclib significantly increased survival rates and prevented recurring disease. (iStock)

When this type of cancer does return, it is usually more advanced and aggressive.

At this week’s ASCO conference, the researchers revealed that in late-stage trials, ribociclib reduced the chance of breast cancer recurrence by 25% when combined with standard hormone therapy after traditional treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

“Adding ribociclib to hormonal therapy led to a significant improvement in iDFS (invasive disease-free survival),” the press release stated. “The three-year iDFS rates were 90.4% in the ribociclib group compared with 87.1% in the hormonal therapy alone group.”

“Overall, the addition of ribociclib reduced the risk for recurrence by 25%.”

Ribociclib has already been approved in the U.S. and U.K. to treat breast cancer that has already spread, but the new findings suggest that it could be effective when used at earlier stages.

Dr. Nathan Goodyear, a physician and medical director at Brio-Medical in Scottsdale, Arizona, has practiced integrative medicine since 2006. He was not involved in the study, but found the findings to be consistent with what he would expect.

“Any targeted approach to cancer treatment provides a precision-based approach.”

“The ultimate purpose is to increase overall efficacy and reduce side effects.”

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With 90% of cancer deaths caused by metastatis (spreading to elsewhere in the body), Goodyear noted that “any therapy that prevents metastasis is a therapy that reduces morbidity and mortality.”

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