Breakthrough In Breast Cancer Treatment Could Increase Life Expectancy, Reduce Side Effects

A breakthrough in cancer treatment could potentially have a big impact on women who are battling advanced stages of breast cancer. The New York Times reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new drug that, when used in conjunction with the popular breast cancer treatment drug Herceptin, will more effectively kill cancerous cells and appreciably extend late-stage metastatic breast cancer patients’ life expectancy while possibly alleviating some of the chemotherapy’s more debilitating side-effects:

The main clinical trial leading to approval of Kadcyla involved 991 patients with metastatic breast cancer that was worsening despite treatment with Herceptin and a taxane chemotherapy drug, like paclitaxel. Half the women were given infusions of Kadcyla and the other half took two pills now commonly used for such patients: Tykerb, also known as lapatinib, and Xeloda, also known as capecitabine.

The patients getting Kadcyla lived a median of 30.9 months, compared with 25.1 months for those getting the two pills. The median time before the disease worsened was 9.6 months for those getting Kadcyla, compared with 6.4 months for those getting the other drugs.

While having greater efficacy, Kadcyla also had fewer side effects. About 43 percent of patients on Kadcyla had serious side effects compared with 59 percent of those getting the two pills.

Kadcya is a first-of-its-kind drug for Americans suffering from more advanced and aggressive breast cancers, and holds great potential for increasing patients’ longevity and reducing suffering. But the drug is likely to cause considerable sticker shock, as “it would cost about $9,800 a month, or $94,000 for a typical course of treatment” — twice the amount of money that treating advanced breast cancer with Herceptin alone would cost.

The fact that Kadcya is so expensive underscores the importance of early testing and prevention efforts, hopefully before diseases worsen and health care costs spiral out of control. The exorbitant cost of American medical care — including staggering fees for everything from simple blood work, to drugs, and to more advanced procedures — makes preventative care more important than ever.

But engaging in that sort of forward-thinking and preventative care is particularly difficult in the face of conservative lawmakers’ war on women’s care facilities such as Planned Parenthood, which is one of the main resources for breast and cervical cancer screenings — particularly for low-income women. While Obamacare mandates that mammograms and similar preventative screenings be provided free of charge, American women may have a difficult time finding adequate resources for such services in the absence of adequate facilities providing them.