breast cancer cell
Breast cancer cell proliferation is stopped by the two-drugs combination. Getty Images

A clinical trial to fight HER2 positive breast cancer has shown promising results. Presented at the 10th European Breast Cancer Conference, the results of the EPHOS-B trial show that over a quarter of patients who were given a combination of two drugs, lapatinib and trastuzumab, saw their a tumour shrink significantly, in just 11 days.

In total, 157 women participated in the two parts trial, between 2010 and 2015. Some were not given any drugs, but one group received trastuzumab, and another a combination of lapatinib and trastuzumab.

The researchers then analysed tumour samples that were taken from a first biopsy and during routine surgery, 11 days later. Their analysis revealed a significant drop in levels of protein Ki67, an indicator of cell proliferation, for women who had been given the two drugs combination.

Looking at the tissues taken during surgery, they even discovered that 11% of the women from these group saw their tumour disappear and 17% of them saw it shrink to reach a size inferior to 5mm in diameter.

For the women who were simply given trastuzumab, only 3% experienced a similar tumour reduction and none had it disappear entirely.

'Ground-breaking potential'

"This has ground-breaking potential because it allows us to identify a group of patients who, within 11 days, have had their tumours disappear...and who potentially may not require subsequent chemotherapy. This offers the opportunity to tailor treatment for each individual woman" explains Professor Nigel Bundred, who presented the results at the conference.

In the past, other trials have looked at the potential of combination treatment, but this is the first time improvements are shown so quickly, in the two weeks between diagnosis and routine surgery.

The scientists say further research is needed to confirm those results on a larger group of women with HER2 positive breast cancer, but because the results are particularly positive, they are hopeful that more trials will soon take place.

(Embargo 10-MAR-2016 16:15 GMT)