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Drug Xeloda prolongs survival for some breast cancer patients

Staff Writer | June 7, 2017
A drug called Xeloda can extend the lives of some women whose breast cancer is not wiped out by standard treatment, a new clinical trial finds.
Drug Xeloda
Tumors   Practice-changing
Oncologists said the results are "practice-changing."

"This drug is already approved, and we've been using it for a long time in cancer treatment," said Dr. Stephen Malamud, an oncologist at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Xeloda (capecitabine) is a pill, so it's easy to take and is "much less toxic" than standard chemotherapy, noted Malamud, who was not involved in the new research.

"Most importantly," he said, "it extended overall survival in this study."

In 1998, Xeloda was approved in the United States for advanced breast cancer that had spread to distant sites in the body. The new trial, done in Japan and South Korea, tested the drug for a different group of patients.

It focused on 910 women whose breast tumors were not completely eliminated by standard chemotherapy and surgery. In addition, they all had cancer that lacked a protein called HER2 - which meant they could not benefit from breast cancer drugs that target HER2, such as Herceptin.

Those women have a fairly high risk of seeing their cancer progress, according to the researchers on the trial, led by Dr. Masakazu Toi, of Kyoto University in Japan.

In the study, Xeloda improved those odds. It cut patients' risk of relapse or death by 30 percent over five years.

At that point, 74 percent were still alive and recurrence-free, versus just under 68 percent of women who'd received placebo pills in addition to standard treatment.

"It's not a panacea, by any means," Malamud said. "But it's a nice 'back door' treatment to improve women's outcomes."

Dr. Elizabeth Comen is a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. She said doctors have already begun using Xeloda for women like those in the trial, based on preliminary reports. (The trial was actually stopped early, in 2015, when it became clear that Xeloda had benefits.)

"This is a landmark trial," Comen said. "It really is, in my opinion, practice-changing."