A combination of anti-diabetic and chemotherapy drugs, costing less than Rs 120 a month, has improved survival rates by a significant 40% in a section of breast cancer patients. A pilot study by Tata Memorial Hospital has brought hope to patients of triple negative breast cancer, who had no affordable options to prevent a relapse so far.
Around 33% of breast cancers at the Tata Hospital are triple negative. This form of cancer affects younger women more and often can be difficult to treat. The findings, based on 64 patients treated at a Chiplun-based outreach hospital attached to Tata, showed that the five-year survival rate of 37 women who took the maintenance doses rose to 90% as compared to 50% in those who did not take the drugs. The patients were given two pills of anti-cancer and one anti-diabetic drug every day for one-and-a-half years.
"The findings are remarkable and make a crucial case for metronomic therapy," said Dr Shripad Banavali, professor and head of department of medical oncology, Tata Hospital. Metronomic therapy refers to a new modality of drug administration with economical, low-dose medicines over a prolonged period. "The maintenance doses given under the metronomic model attacked the cancer in three ways. We weakened the tumour by reducing the blood supply, modulated the body's microenvironment and immunity. The idea was not just to go after the tumour but launch an all-round attack," he said. The only non-cancer drug metformin, which is primarily given to diabetics, was used as a biological response modifier.