Targeted breast cancer drugs show promise

There is promising news on breast cancer. We have the results of two new studies involving targeted drug treatments.

CBS News correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook examined the way these experimental therapies work.

When 66-year-old Debbera Drake was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2007. It had already spread to her lungs. Then it went to her brain, and her doctor said she probably wouldn't survive.

"I wasn't as scared as I was sad because I love my life, I love my family. And I thought, I thought I don't want to leave them soon," Drake said.

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Today's two drug studies offer people like Drake new options for fighting advanced breast cancer. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, these drugs target cancer cells while leaving normal, healthy ones alone.

"These two findings will change practice that will affect close to 8-0 % of our patients with metatsastic breast cancer. That's huge news on its own," said Dr. Jose Baselga, the principal researcher.

One treatment combined Aromasin, which blocks production of the cancer fueling hormone Estrogen with Afinitor, which cuts off a tumor's blood supply and also attacks the inside of cancer cells.

Women receiving both Aromasin and Afinitor went about four months longer without their cancer progressing than those receiving just one.

The treatments are personalized, only working for women with specific types of breast cancer.

"These patients feel better, these patients have fewer side effects, these patients can carry on normal lives," Dr. Baselga said.

And there's likely to be more discoveries ahead. Last month, we visited Dr. Baselga's lab, where scientists use the world's largest library of tumors to discover mutations in cancer cells that can be attacked by new drugs.

The second trial combined standard chemotherapy with two newer drugs specifically targeting the surface of breast tumor cells. The cancer was held in check for an additional six months.

Both new combinations must still be approved by the FDA.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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