Breast cancer treatment improves survival of women with triple-negative type [Updated]

A breast cancer treatment for women with a form of the disease called "triple-negative" has been shown to increase survival time. The study showed that adding a type of medication called a PARP inhibitor to standard chemotherapy led to improved survival.

PARP is an acronym for poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase, an enzyme that helps repair DNA. But cancer cells can use the PARP repair process to survive. Drugs that inhibit PARP are thus emerging as potential cancer therapies because they seem to be able to deliver another blow to cancer cells that have already been weakened by chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, women with triple-negative breast cancer have an especially dangerous form of the disease. These tumors have cell receptors that are not responsive to estrogen, progesterone or human epidermal growth factor. There are no medications specifically approved to treat triple-negative breast cancer.

In the Phase 2 study reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine researchers led by Dr. Joyce O'Shaughnessy of Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center reported that women receiving a PARP inhibitor called iniparib along with the drugs gemcitabine and carboplatin experienced an additional two months of disease-free survival and an additional five months of overall survival compared with women who received the standard chemotherapy only. While the amount of additional survival time is small, researchers called the progress significant.

A Phase 3 trial testing the regimen for advanced, triple-negative breast cancer is underway. In a commentary accompanying the study, researchers from the University of North Carolina noted: "...these are exciting results presaging improved therapy for an under-served subgroup of patients with breast cancer..."

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[For the record, 10:00 a.m. Jan. 6: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that these tumors have cell receptors that are  responsive to estrogen, progesterone or human epidermal growth factor. They do not.]

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