Metastatic breast cancer can be treated, but often times it can’t be cured. For now, the goals of treatment include reducing your symptoms, improving your quality of life, and prolonging your life.
Treatment typically involves either hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted treatment, or a combination of these.
Here are some of the current and future treatments that you can expect to hear about if you’ve received an advanced breast cancer diagnosis.
Researchers have developed several relatively new drugs that target specific cell changes. These changes cause cancer cells to quickly grow and spread. This is different than chemotherapy, which targets all cells that grow rapidly, including cancer cells and healthy cells.
Many of these targeted drugs have been approved to treat metastatic breast cancer. Others are being studied in clinical trials, and many more are in preclinical testing.
Some examples of targeted therapies include:
- Lapatinib (Tykerb). This drug is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It works by blocking enzymes that promote cell growth. It’s available as a pill you take daily to treat metastatic breast cancer. It may be combined with certain chemotherapy drugs or hormonal therapies.
- Neratinib (Nerlynx). This drug is approved to treat HER2-positive early breast cancer. Some studies show that it may be effective at treating people with metastatic breast cancer as well.
- Olaparib (Lynparza). This treatment is approved for HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer in people who have a BRCA gene mutation. It’s available as a daily pill.
CDK4/6 inhibitors are another class of targeted treatment drugs. These drugs block certain proteins that enable cancer cells to grow. Abemaciclib (Verzenio), palbociclib (Ibrance), and ribociclib (Kisqali) are CDK4/6 inhibitors that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for breast cancer treatment. They’re used in combination with hormone therapy to treat HR-positive and HER2-negative metastatic breast cancers.
Drug therapies on the horizon
There are many treatments available to treat metastatic breast cancer, but studies are still being conducted to learn more about how these cancer cells and gene mutations function. Below are some of the treatments still being researched.
Angiogenesis is the process where new blood vessels are created. Anti-angiogenesis drugs are designed to cut off the blood supply to vessels. This deprives cancer cells of the blood needed to grow.
The anti-angiogenesis drug bevacizumab (Avastin) is currently FDA-approved to treat other cancers. This drug showed some effectiveness in women with advanced breast cancer, but the FDA withdrew approval for that use in 2011. Bevacizumab and other anti-angiogenesis drugs are still undergoing research for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
Biosimilar drugs are similar to brand name drugs, but may cost less. They’re a viable treatment option.
Many biosimilar drugs for breast cancer are being studied. The biosimilar form of trastuzumab (Herceptin), a chemotherapy drug, is the only biosimilar approved for the treatment of HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. It’s called trastuzumab-dkst (Ogivri).
Immunotherapy is a method of treatment that assists the body’s own immune system in destroying cancer cells.
One class of immunotherapy drugs is PD1/PD-L1 inhibitors. Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) has been approved to treat lung cancer. It’s undergoing clinical trials to test its effectiveness in patients with triple negative metastatic breast cancer.
PI3 kinase inhibitors
The PIK3CA gene helps control PI3 kinase, the enzyme that causes tumors to grow. PI3 kinase inhibitors are designed to interrupt and stop the growth of the P13 enzyme. These are being studied for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
Enhanced prediction and monitoring
Unfortunately, people may develop resistance to certain cancer treatments. This causes the treatments to stop working effectively. Researchers are developing new ways to monitor how patients respond to treatment.
Analysis of circulating tumor DNA (also known as a liquid biopsy) is being studied as a method of guiding treatment. Researchers are trying to determine if this test is beneficial in monitoring patients with metastatic breast cancer and predicting how they’ll respond to treatment.
Getting involved in a clinical trial
Participating in a clinical trial can help researchers find out if new treatments will work. If you’re interested in joining one, a good starting point is , a searchable database of studies currently recruiting around the world. Also check out initiatives like the . This internet-based platform connects people who have metastatic breast cancer with scientists who are using technology to study the causes of cancer.
Talk to your healthcare provider to see if joining a clinical trial is right for you. They can help you determine if you’re eligible and help you enroll.