FDA: Roche Drug Could Help Women In Earliest Stages of Breast Cancer

Big news in the fight against breast cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration has handed down a positive review of a new breast cancer drug that could become the first stop for doctors looking to treat the disease in its earliest stages.

The drug, Perjeta, is made by the pharmaceutical company Roche. Originally, it was used to treat aggressive breast cancer that had already spread. But based on new tests, the FDA found that women who took the drug during earlier stages of diagnosis ended up with fewer tumors than those who took older cocktails of drugs.

The findings have encouraged the FDA to fast track approval of the drug, a step only used for medications that are considered groundbreaking in the battle against life-threatening diseases.

How big of a deal is this? Roche is pushing to have the drug approved for use during the very earliest stages of cancer possible — right after diagnosis, but before surgery to remove existing tumors. In almost all forms of cancer, surgery to remove the tumor is the very first step in treatment. If approved, Perjeta would be the first pre-surgical cancer drug.

Drugs that target cancer during early stages are still pretty experimental, but doctors and researchers are all hoping that the early use of cancer drugs could potentially shrink tumors, making them easier to remove or even, fingers crossed, eliminate the need for surgery at all.

A panel will review a study of 417 women that will compare Perjeta combinations against older cancer treatments. When Perjeta was combined with another drug, Herceptin, and standard chemotherapy, 39 percent of women saw their cancer reduced to undetectable levels. For women who did not have Perjeta, that number was closer to 21 percent.

Breast cancer is the second-most deadly form of cancer for women in the U.S. and will kill an estimated 39,000 women this year. The news of a potential breakthrough in early treatment also comes on the heels of new research about the importance of mammograms this week. A study by Harvard University concluded that for younger women, mammogram screenings could greatly help in the fight against cancer, while for older women, the benefits of frequent screenings were muted.