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Emerging Areas in the Treatment of Metastatic Breast Cancer



Current Research on Drugs and Treatment
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Clinical Trials
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Research Fast Facts: Metastasis
Fact Sheet

Many new treatments for metastatic breast cancer are under study. Most of these are drug therapies. Some focus on treating the whole body, while others focus on the breast, chest wall and nearby lymph nodes. Findings from clinical trials of these treatments will determine whether or not they become a part of standard care for metastatic breast cancer. Sometimes, these treatments go on to be part of early stage breast cancer care.  

Learn about clinical trials.  

Tyrosine-kinase inhibitors

Tyrosine-kinase inhibitors are targeted therapies for cancer. Although some tyrosine-kinase inhibitors are used to treat other types of cancer, lapatinib (Tykerb) is the only one FDA-approved for the treatment of breast cancer. Lapatinib is only used to treat HER2/neu-positive metastatic breast cancer.  

Other tyrosine-kinase inhibitors are under study for use in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.  

Learn more about lapatinib in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.  

PARP inhibitors

Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors are a class of drugs under study for many types of cancer, including breast cancer. PARP is an enzyme involved in DNA repair. Some chemotherapy drugs damage DNA. Adding a PARP inhibitor to these chemotherapy plans may lower the chances cancer cells become resistant (stop responding) to the chemotherapy.  

At this time, PARP inhibitors are only offered in clinical trials for people with metastatic breast cancer. Early findings suggest PARP inhibitors hold the most promise for people with metastatic breast cancer who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation [39].  

Read comments on the potential uses of PARP inhibitors from our Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Eric Winer.    

Cyclin dependent kinase 4 and 6 (CDK4/6) inhibitors

CDK4 and CDK6 are enzymes important in cell division. CDK4/6 inhibitors are a new class of drugs designed to interrupt the growth of cancer cells. CDK4/6 inhibitors in combination with hormone therapy are under study for the treatment of hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer.   

Bevacizumab (Avastin) and other anti-angiogenesis drugs

Anti-angiogenesis drugs, such as bevacizumab (Avastin), block the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). Without a blood supply, the cancer cannot grow.  

Although early data found bevacizumab offered benefit to some women with metastatic breast cancer, longer-term follow-up data did not confirm these findings. In 2011, the FDA revoked its approval for the use of bevacizumab in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer [40]. However, bevacizumab and other anti-angiogenesis are still under study for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. Bevacizumab is still FDA-approved for use in other cancers.

Methods of checking treatment response

Tumors often develop resistance (stop responding) to drugs used to treat metastatic breast cancer. New ways to monitor response to treatment are under study.

Circulating tumor cells

Many studies have shown circulating tumor cell levels can help predict survival for people with metastatic breast cancer [41-43]. The more circulating tumor cells in the blood, the more advanced the metastatic breast cancer is likely to be. Having more of these cells may also predict a lack of response to treatment.  

At this time, testing for circulating tumor cells is not routinely done in clinical practice. Researchers are studying whether it provides more information than standard tests.  

 Komen Perspectives  

 Read our perspective on living with metastatic breast cancer (January 2014).* 


Clinical trials

After talking with your health care provider, we encourage you to consider joining a clinical trial of new treatments for metastatic breast cancer. If your medical center does not offer clinical trials, you may want to get a referral to a cancer center that is involved in clinical trials of new metastatic breast cancer treatments. in collaboration with Susan G. Komen offers a custom matching service that can help you find a clinical trial for people with metastatic breast cancer.  

Learn more about clinical trials and find a list of resources to help you find a clinical trial.   

 Komen Perspectives  

 Read our perspective on clinical trials (July 2012).* 


 Our commitment to research 

At Susan G. Komen, we are committed to ending breast cancer forever by energizing science to find the cures and ensuring quality care for all people, everywhere. Our global research grants and scientific programs are essential driving forces for achieving this mission. Many of the world’s leaders in breast cancer research have been supported by Komen’s research and scientific programs – including three Nobel Laureates. Komen’s funding has supported research that has resulted in a better understanding of breast cancer; earlier detection; personalized, less invasive treatments for what was once a “one-treatment-fits-all” disease; and improved survival rates. Learn more about the exciting research we are funding.  

*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.  

Updated 06/24/14


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