Treatment for advanced breast cancer has come a long way.
Finding out you have metastatic breast cancer is never easy, but today’s treatment options are better than ever before. There’s still no “cure” for stage IV breast cancer, but treatment can help slow cancer growth and prolong your life. What’s more, newer treatments emerge all the time.
“It’s been a very exciting decade in advanced breast cancer for all of our different tumor types,” says Paula Klein, MD, hematologist and oncologist at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Health System. Doctors now have “very exciting new drugs” to improve treatment outcomes and extend life, says Dr. Klein.
What are new treatment types for metastatic breast cancer?
Two major new treatments for advanced breast cancer include CDK4/6 inhibitors and antibody-drug conjugates.
CDK4/6 inhibitors help treat a subtype known as hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. In this type of breast cancer, the hormones estrogen and progesterone help fuel the growth of the breast cancer cells. This subtype of breast cancer is traditionally treated with anti-estrogen therapies. These help block the hormones from fueling the cancer cells.
Dr. Klein refers to CDK4/6 inhibitors as a “booster pill” when taken with anti-estrogen therapy. They block enzymes that contribute to cell division, which helps disrupt cancer growth.
Antibody drug conjugates
Antibody-drug conjugates help treat a different subtype known as HER2-positive breast cancer. Instead of being fueled by hormones, breast cancer growth comes from a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2.
Antibody-drug conjugates help the body’s own immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. They work like this:
- The medicine delivers antibodies into the body. Antibodies are part of the immune system. They target “invaders” in the body, such as cancer cells.
- The antibody has a toxin attached, such as chemotherapy. This toxin is sometimes referred to as a payload or smart bomb.
- The antibody binds to a cancer cell.
- The antibody delivers the toxin into the cancer cell. This makes the attack more powerful than the antibody alone.
- Finally, the cancer cell dies.
“Patients may think that they’re going to suffer with cancer and cancer treatment, and it’s not [necessarily] true,” says Dr. Klein. “We have oodles of medications, [and] they’re making a new one every day.”
Paula Klein, MD, is a hematologist and oncologist at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Health System.
- Antibody-drug conjugate. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. (Accessed on August 3, 2021)
- Breast cancer treatment (adult) (PDQR) - patient version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. (Accessed on August 3, 2021)
- Targeted drug therapy for breast cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on August 3, 2021)