Major cancer treatment breakthroughs announced

June 6, 2011 4:59:41 PM PDT
Sophisticated science seems to be paying off. Cancer treatments are being targeted to patients' tumors and they're working better than conventional treatments.

We have the latest findings on preventing breast cancer in high risk women and improving the survival rates of people with melanoma skin cancer.

Melanoma is a lethal skin cancer and it's been tough for people to survive it. But now scientists have found a genetic abnormality in about half of melanomas. They're using that abnormality as a target for a new experimental drug.

Almost 50 percent of melanoma patients on the new treatment improved. That's compared to just 6 percent of people on standard chemotherapy.

The drug is the first to show improved survival for people with advanced melanoma.

Another big story out of this week's American Society of Clinical Oncology is on a new way to prevent breast cancer in women at high risk.

"This is for women who've never had a diagnosis of breast cancer looking to prevent that very first diagnosis," said Dr. Therese Bevers with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

That's women who have a genetic disposition to cancer and other reasons that would make them high risk.

"Simply being aged 60 or older is enough of a risk to consider its use. You need to balance the benefits against potential harms," Dr. Bevers said.

Aromasin would be an option to women who take Tamoxifen, a drug that has lots of serious side effects such as strokes, blood clots, cataracts and even uterine cancer.

"Here's a drug that looks as effective, possibly fewer toxicities, and that may be an attractive option," Dr. Bevers said.

Aromasin may have negative effects on the bones.

In another study of lung cancer patients, scientists found 60 percent of those tumors had genetic mutations. That provides an opportunity to make new drugs to target those genetic abnormalities.

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