Scientists say they have made the biggest breakthrough in treating cervical cancer in 20 years.
Cancer Research UK funded work that has proven to be the biggest breakthrough in treating cervical cancer in 20 years.
Scientists used a course of existing, cheap drugs ahead of usual radiotherapy with ground-breaking results.
Trial findings came to light at the ESMO medical conference. They show the approach cut the risk of women dying from cervical cancer or returning cases by an incredible 35%. Cancer Research has called the results “remarkable”.
Cervical cancer research and treatment – breakthrough treatment could save thousands
Cervical cancer affects thousands of women around the world each year, many of whom are in their early 30s.
Despite improvements in radiotherapy care, the cancer comes back in up to a third of cases, meaning this new approach is very much welcomed and needed.
Dr Iain Foulkes, from Cancer Research UK, said, “Timing is everything when you’re treating cancer.
“A growing body of evidence is showing the value of additional rounds of chemotherapy before other treatments like surgery and radiotherapy in several other cancers.
“Not only can it reduce the chances of cancer coming back, it can be delivered quickly using drugs already available worldwide.
“We’re excited for the improvements this trial could bring to cervical cancer treatment and hope short courses of induction chemotherapy will be rapidly adopted in the clinic”.
The study – treatment given
For this study, 250 women with cervical cancer underwent the new treatment. This involved an intensive six-week course of carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy.
The “usual” treatment for cervical cancer followed: radiotherapy and weekly cisplatin and brachytherapy. This is known as chemoradiation.
The control group of 250 women only received the “usual” chemoradiation.
Fast forward five years and 80% of the women who received the new treatment were alive, and 73% had avoided their cancer returning or spreading.
By comparison, in the control group who received the “usual” treatment, 72% were alive, and 64% had not seen their cancer return or spread.
An incredible breakthrough – but not without some pitfalls
Lead investigator of the trial from UCL Cancer Institute and UCLH, Dr Mary McCormack, said, “Our trial shows that this short course of additional chemotherapy delivered immediately before the standard CRT can reduce the risk of the cancer returning or death by 35%.
“This is the biggest improvement in outcome in this disease in over 20 years”.
She told the BBC’s Today programme, “The important thing here is that if patients are alive and well, without the cancer recurring at five years, then they are very likely to be cured, so that’s what makes this very exciting”.
The two new chemotherapy drugs are cheap, accessible, and already approved for patient use. Experts say, therefore, they could quickly become a new standard of care.
It is worth noting that they cautioned that not every woman with cervical cancer might get the same beneficial outcomes from the treatment.
In this study, many of the women’s cancers had not yet started to spread. It is yet unclear how well the therapy will work for women with more advanced cases of cervical cancer.