Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is more aggressive and has a worse prognosis than other breast cancers.
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) accounts for about 15-20% of all breast cancers. The word “triple-negative” means laboratory test results for the three treatment targets on cancer cells, namely the estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2 proteins, are all negative.
TNBC is a more aggressive type of cancer that grows and spreads faster. As the triple-negative cancer cells won’t respond well to most therapies, including hormone therapy and targeted therapy, doctors have very few treatment options to control the cancer progress. As a result, TNBC patients tend to spread faster and have a higher recurrence rate and worse prognosis.
A New Treatment Option is Now Available
On March 11, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called Olaparib to treat HER2-negative, high-risk early breast cancer. Data from a phase 3 clinical trial of 1,836 patients, of which about 82% had the triple-negative disease, led to the approval. The clinical trial results demonstrated that Olaparib reduced the risk of death by 32%, compared to the placebo. The recent FDA approval brings new hopes to patients with early triple-negative breast cancer since many currently available therapies couldn’t effectively control the progression of their cancers.
Patients have to do a blood test before receiving Olaparib treatment.
Olaparib is a targeted therapy restricted to patients whose breast cancers have specific gene mutations called germline BRCA1/2 mutations. To be eligible for the treatment, patients must have an FDA-approved blood test, or a companion diagnostic test, to confirm the existence of the germline BRCA1/2 mutations before their treatment. Patients without the confirmed mutations couldn’t receive the Olaparib treatment as they won’t have the treatment benefits from the drug and might experience the drug’s harsher side effects.
Research Performed Three Decades Ago Enhances Targeted Therapy Today
In 1990, Dr. Mary-Claire King, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley, was the first scientist to demonstrate that a gene on chromosome 17q21, named BRCA1 one year later, was responsible for hereditary early-onset breast cancers. In 1994, Drs. Michael Stratton and Richard Wooster in the UK identified BRCA2. Three decades later, mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes become a critical indication to enhance the targeted therapy with Olaparib. It tells us that converting research discoveries to patient-impacting benefits takes pretty long. We need to continue to support basic research today so that new therapies can continue to save patients’ lives in the future.
To recognize Dr. Mary-Claire King’s fundamental contribution to the genetic understanding of cancer, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) awarded Dr. Mary-Claire King the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research in 2016 in Washington DC. Learn more about this award and Dr. Mary-Claire King’s research here.
Olaparib offers survival benefits and brings new hopes to patients with early triple-negative breast cancer. As the patients have to be selected by an FDA-approved blood test before the treatment, patients should work with their doctors to determine whether they are eligible for the treatment before receiving the treatment.
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- FDA approves Olaparib for adjuvant treatment of high-risk early breast cancer. The Food and Drug Administration, March 11, 2022.
- A New Era of Hope for Patients With Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. The ASCO Post,August 10, 2021.