The American Cancer Society estimate that there will be 12,360 new cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnosed this year, with 4,020 deaths from the disease. Now, a phase II trial has found that a targeted antitumor drug could prolong the survival of women with cervical cancer.
The research team, led by Dr. Angélica Nogueira-Rodrigues of the Brazilian National Cancer Institute, recently published their findings in the journal Cancer.
For patients with locally advanced cervical cancer - cancer that has spread only to nearby tissues or lymph nodes - cisplatin-based chemoradiation therapy (CRT) is deemed the standard treatment.
However, the researchers note there has been a lack of research into the benefits of this treatment since the late 1990s, and the therapy can be unpredictable and disappointing for patients.
With this in mind, the research team investigated a new treatment strategy. This involves targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) - a receptor that is commonly overexpressed in patients with cervical cancer.
Past research has shown that blocking EGFR can stop the development of tumors in a number of cancers, and erlotinib is a drug that is a known EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor.
Targeted therapy 'halts cervical cancer progression and prolongs survival'
For their phase II trial, the team tested the effectiveness of erlotinib in combination with cisplatin-based CRT in 36 women aged 18-70 years who had cervical cancer stages IIB to IIIB.
The therapy was carried out for a median of 77 days, and the median follow-up duration was 59.3 months.
Results of the trial revealed that overall, all cancerous tumors disappeared in 34 (94.4%) patients.
At 2 years after treatment had ceased, 91.7% of the patients were still alive and 80.6% had no disease progression. A year later, 80% of the women were still alive and 73.8% had no disease progression.
In comparison, the researchers note that cisplatin-based CRT currently decreases mortality risk by 30-50% for patients with locally advanced cervical cancer who are undergoing radiotherapy.
Commenting on the findings, the study authors say:
"To the best of our knowledge, the current study is the first to reveal that a target agent is safe and has promising activity against locally advanced cervical cancer when combined with CRT."
Based on their findings, the researchers say the combination of erlotinib and CRT warrants further investigation and this should involve the assessment of other potential biomarkers.
"In this context, a recent study has identified EGFR mutations in 36% of cases of squamous cell cervical cancer," they add.
"However, this observation requires further confirmation and needs to be coupled with a thorough molecular characterization of cervical cancer to implement rational and efficacious targeted therapy for this disease."
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also assesses a new treatment option for patients with cervical cancer. It suggests that chemotherapy combined with a drug called Avastin (bevacizumab) may be able to extend the lives of patients in the advanced stages of the disease.
Written by Honor Whiteman