WEDNESDAY, Aug. 1 (HealthDay News) -- A combination of two cancer drugs works better than one alone to improve survival in older women with a type of breast cancer that has spread, new research suggests.
The drugs -- anastrozole (Arimidex) and fulvestrant (Faslodex) -- are currently used individually to treat breast cancer, said researcher Dr. Rita Mehta, an associate professor of health sciences at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.
For the study, published Aug. 2 in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 700 postmenopausal women were assigned to Arimidex alone or to both drugs. Mehta looked at whether the combination improved their survival, and whether the cancer spread or not, which is termed progression-free survival.
"With the combination, there is a 20 percent improvement in progression-free survival and a 19 percent improvement in overall survival," Mehta said.
Put another way, those getting the combined treatment gained six months. They lived a median of 47.7 months (half lived longer, half less) while the solo-drug patients lived a median of 41.3 months.
The disease took 15 months to progress in the patients on both drugs, but just 13.5 on the solo drugs. Forty-one percent of the women taking Arimidex whose disease progressed later switched to Faslodex, which led the researchers to conclude that simultaneous treatment rather than sequential treatment brought about the benefits.
While other serious side effects were similar in both groups, three women in the combination-drug group died, which was possibly associated with the treatment.
The five-year study was supported by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, which makes both drugs.
All the women had hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, which requires estrogen to grow and accounts for more than 50 percent of all cases
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