A Step Away From Keeping Breast Cancer Away

Triple negative breast cancer experimental therapy may hold recurrences at bay

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One type of breast cancer usually defies treatment. Triple-negative (TN) breast cancer doesn’t have the molecules that drugs can fasten onto and kill. New research has found another route to controlling this aggressive cancer.

A very small study has shown that depleting the body’s level of copper may help control triple-negative breast cancer.

An experimental medication allowed some TN breast cancer patients to live more than five years. Most women live about 9 months after a TN breast cancer diagnosis.

"Find out if you qualify – go to clinicaltrials.gov."

Weill Cornell Medical College researchers have discovered that an anti-copper drug – tetrathiomolybdate (TM) – was effective in blocking the return of TN breast cancer.

The medicine works by preventing bone marrow cells from setting up shop in different organs to help metastasized (has spread) cancer cells survive and thrive.

"The anti-copper compound appears to be keeping tumors that want to spread in a dormant state," said the study's senior investigator, Linda Vahdat, MD, director of the Breast Cancer Research Program and chief of the Solid Tumor Service and professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Four of the study members with metastatic TN breast cancer were disease free for 3.5 to 5.5 years. Only two of the initial 11 women with a history of advanced triple-negative breast cancer taking TM saw their cancer return within 10 months.

The medicine, which is still being studied in clinical trials, also demonstrated effectiveness in treating advanced – stage lll and stage lV – breast cancers.

Among 29 patients with stage lll and stage lV breast cancers, 85 percent did not see the cancers get worse (progression-free survival – PFS) since the study began in 2007.

Previous studies have shown that the manner in which the body metabolizes copper and bone marrow cells may play a role in the spread of cancer – which is usually the cause of death.

This study began in 2007 with 40 patients and has been enlarged to now include 60 patients, half of whom have triple-negative breast cancer.

Researchers learned that 75 percent of patients achieved the target for copper depletion after one month of TM therapy. The therapy was also well tolerated.

Copper depletion was most effective in patients with TN breast cancer – 91 percent. About 40 percent of other tumor types responded to TM.

"These study findings are very promising and potentially a very exciting advance in our efforts to help women who are at the highest risk of recurrence," Dr. Vahdat said.

This study was published in the February issue of the Annals of Oncology. The research was funded by the Anne Moore Breast Cancer Research Fund, Stephen and Madeline Anbinder Foundation, Rozaliya Kosmandel Research Fund, Susan G Komen for the Cure, New York Community Trust, Cancer Research and Treatment Fund, Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer and Berman Fund. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 18, 2013
Last Updated:
February 19, 2013