Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer among women globally, according to the World Health Organization. Despite innovations in treatment, the cancer still returns in up to a third of cases – and around 4,000 women die of the disease each year.
However, a new treatment plan may drastically reduce this number. At a recent conference for the European Society for Medical Oncology in Madrid, Spain, scientists with Cancer Research UK revealed a new method that can reduce the risk of death – and the cancer’s return – by 35 percent.
“This is the biggest improvement in outcome in this disease in over 20 years,” Dr. Mary McCormack, lead investigator of the trial from UCL Cancer Institute and UCLH, told the BBC.
The treatment involves a six-week course of existing chemotherapy drugs, carboplatin and paclitaxel, prior to “standard” chemoradiation treatment, which consists of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“A growing body of evidence is showing the value of additional rounds of chemotherapy before other treatments like surgery and radiotherapy in several other cancers,” Dr. Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said in a statement. “Not only can it reduce the chances of cancer coming back, it can be delivered quickly using drugs already available worldwide.”
In a study, 250 women with cervical cancer received this extra course of chemotherapy prior to chemoradiation, while a control group of another 250 women received the chemoradiation alone.
Scientists with Cancer Research UK have called the results “remarkable”: Five years after the study began, 80 percent of those who received the new treatment were alive and 73 percent had not seen their cancer spread or return.
Meanwhile, only 72 percent of women in the control group were alive after five years, and 64 percent had not seen their cancer spread or return.
“The important thing here is that if patients are alive and well, without the cancer recurring at five years, then they are very likely to be cured, so that’s what makes this very exciting,” McCormack said.
A key benefit of this treatment is that the two chemotherapy drugs are cheap and have already been approved for use, meaning that it could be implemented in clinics soon, according to experts.
“Timing is everything when you’re treating cancer,” said Foulkes. “We’re excited for the improvements this trial could bring to cervical cancer treatment and hope short courses of induction chemotherapy will be rapidly adopted in the clinic.”