High hopes for outcome of new breast cancer trial

WOMEN from around the country are taking part in a pioneering study that could revolutionise breast cancer treatment.

Mr Micheal Kerin, lead surgeon with the national breast screening programme Breast Check and based in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, said 107 women from around the country have been chosen to take part in the Irish leg of a worldwide trial of new hormone drug exemestane. A total of 8,000 women from around the globe will take part in this multi-centre trial.

Similar studies have found that exemestane is more effective than tamoxifen, the best existing form of treatment, for delaying the progress of the disease.

Women who took exemestane a type of drug known as an aromatase inhibitor survived for an average of 10.9 months without the disease progressing. For those on tamoxifen the average progression-free survival was 6.7 months, according to the results of a study from the University Hospital Gasthuisberg in Leuven, Belgium.

British Cancer Research scientists also revealed a study showing that women who switched to exemestane after taking tamoxifen for around two-and-a-half years were less likely to see the disease recur.

Their study, following 4,700 post-menopausal women, found a 32% reduction in the risk of the disease recurring in those who switched to exemestane.

The study in Britain is similar to the two-year one taking place in Ireland. The Irish women will be put straight onto exemestane after surgery and will not use tamoxifen first.

Chief executive of the Irish Clinical Oncology Research Group (ICORG) Dr Brian Moulton said he was particularly encouraged by the results of other trials of exemestane published at last week's fourth European Breast Cancer Conference. He said they reflected preliminary results of the Irish study which "suggest that they are benefiting from this involvement".

Mr Kerin, who is the principal investigator of the Irish trial, said it will be at least 18 months before an interim analysis will be published. He said that each woman's progress will also have to be monitored for a number of years in order to assess the long-term impact of exemestane.

"The results [of other studies] are very encouraging and there is no doubt that exemestane will play a major role in the management of breast cancer in the future," he said.

l1800 309040: The freephone Action Breast Cancer Helpline.

l1800 454555: Breast Check's freephone information line.

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