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Metastatic Breast Cancer: What New Drug Treatments Are Available?

Introduction

If you’ve been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, you likely want to learn all you can about possible treatments. Many drugs are available to treat this condition, including some exciting new ones that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved in recent years. These newer drugs may:

  • work better than older drugs
  • have fewer side effects
  • prolong life
  • increase quality of life

With this article, we’ll tell you about these newest drugs: what conditions they treat, how they work, and what side effects to look for. This information can help as you and your doctor explore treatment options for your metastatic breast cancer.

New medications for metastatic breast cancer

This list highlights some of the most promising new drugs for treating metastatic breast cancer.

What is metastatic breast cancer?
Metastatic breast cancer is any cancer that started in the breast but has spread to an area outside of the breast or nearby lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small glands that are part of the immune system. Metastatic breast cancer can move to any part of the body, but it’s more common in the bones, liver, lungs, or brain.

Palbociclib (Ibrance)

Palbociclib was approved in February 2015. It’s only available as the brand-name drug Ibrance.

Palbociclib is used to treat hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer. Hormone receptor-positive cancer is partly fed by either or both of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

What’s a hormone receptor?
A hormone receptor is a protein in a cell that binds, or attaches to, a certain hormone. For instance, an estrogen receptor is the part of the cell that binds with the hormone estrogen. These receptors can be found on any cells, including cancer cells.

How does it work?

Palbociclib is a CDK 4/6 inhibitor. This type of drug works by blocking the action of proteins called cyclin-dependent kinases. These proteins promote the growth of hormone receptor-positive cancer cells. Blocking these proteins slows the growth of the cancer cells.

How should I take this drug?

Palbociclib comes as a tablet you take by mouth. You take it with another breast cancer medication called letrozole. You take these drugs once daily for three weeks (21 days), followed by a one-week break. After the break, you repeat the treatment cycle.

What are the possible side effects?

The more common side effects of palbociclib include:

  • infections
  • decreased amounts of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • mouth sores
  • tiredness
  • hair loss

Ado-trastuzumab (Kadcyla)

Ado-trastuzumab is only available as the brand-name drug Kadcyla. It was approved in February 2013. It’s used to treat HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. This type of cancer has a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). This protein promotes the growth of cancer cells.

Ado-trastuzumab is prescribed for people who have received a previous treatment for their breast cancer.

Learn more: HER2-positive breast cancer survival rates and other statistics »

How does it work?

Ado-trastuzumab works by stopping breast cancer cells from growing. It also kills these cancer cells.

How should I take this drug?

This medication is given as an intravenous (IV) infusion. A healthcare provider injects it into your vein.

What are the possible side effects?

The more common side effects of ado-trastuzumab include:

  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • muscle pain
  • bleeding
  • decreased number of blood cells
  • headache
  • increased liver enzymes (as shown in a test your doctor does)
  • constipation
  • nose bleeds

Everolimus (Afinitor)

Everolimus is only available as the brand-name drug Afinitor. It was released on the market to treat another kind of cancer in March 2009. In July 2012, the FDA approved it for treatment of metastatic breast cancer. Everolimus is used in women who have reached menopause and whose metastatic breast cancer:

  • has not responded to the drugs letrozole and anastrozole
  • is advanced and hormone receptor-positive
  • is HER2-negative (does not have the HER2 protein)

How does it work?

Everolimus prevents breast cancer cells from multiplying. It also prevents them from using blood sugar and from creating new blood vessels to supply the cells with blood. These effects prevent the cancer cells from growing.

How should I take this drug?

Everolimus comes as a tablet you take by mouth. You take it once per day with another breast cancer drug called exemestane.

What are the possible side effects?

The more common side effects of this medication include:

  • inflammation and sores in the mouth
  • infections
  • rash
  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • diarrhea
  • swelling
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • fever
  • cough
  • headache
  • decreased appetite

Pertuzumab (Perjeta)

Pertuzumab was approved in June 2012. It’s used to treat HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. Pertuzumab is only available as the brand-name drug Perjeta.

How does it work?

Pertuzumab stops the growth of breast cancer cells with the HER2 receptor. It also kills these cells.

How should I take this drug?

A healthcare provider gives you this medication as an intravenous (IV) infusion. They inject it into your vein. You’re likely receive it together with the cancer drugs trastuzumab and docetaxel.

What are the possible side effects?

The more common side effects of pertuzumab (when combined with trastuzumab and docetaxel) include:

  • diarrhea
  • hair loss
  • nausea
  • rash
  • tiredness
  • decreased numbers of red and white blood cells
  • numbness and weakness in your hands and feet

Drugs in development

A number of drugs for treating metastatic breast cancer are currently being developed. Your doctor can tell you more about these. Some examples include:

  • Abemaciclib. This drug is designed to treat hormone-receptor positive and HER-2 negative cancer.
  • Atezolizumab. This drug is designed to treat receptor-negative cancer.
  • Taselisib. This drug is designed to treat HER2-negative and hormone-receptor positive cancer.

Talk with your doctor

Your doctor is your best source of information about drugs to treat your metastatic breast cancer. Review this article with your doctor and be sure to ask them your questions. These might include:

  • Could any of the drugs in this list help treat my cancer?
  • Does my health history affect which drugs I can take?
  • Could any of these breast cancer drugs interact with drugs I’m already taking?
  • Does my insurance cover the drugs you think would be best for me?

After gathering information and talking it over with your doctor, you can work with your doctor to create a treatment plan for your metastatic breast cancer that’s best for you.

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