Drugs show promise in fighting breast, lung and prostate cancers

(CBS NEWS) -- Several drugs are scoring big wins against common cancers, setting new standards for how to treat many prostate, breast and lung tumors. There's even a "uni-drug" that may fight many forms of the disease. What's especially striking: The drugs are beneficial in some cases for more than a year, much longer than the few months many new drugs provide. 

Here are some highlights from the world's largest cancer meeting, the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago:

Prostate cancer

Janssen Biotech's Zytiga improved survival and delayed cancer growth for 18 months when added to standard care in a study of 1,200 men with advanced prostate cancer. The drug is approved to treat tumors that are resistant to hormone therapy; this study tested it as an initial treatment.

The study was stopped early because men on Zytiga were living longer — 66 percent were alive after three years versus 49 percent of a comparison group not given the drug. Zytiga also delayed the time until cancer worsened — 33 months versus 15 months for the others.

In a second study of 1,900 men newly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, adding Zytiga to usual treatment also improved survival: 83 percent were alive at three years versus 76 percent of men not given the drug. Zytiga also cut the chance of relapse and serious bone problems.

Zytiga caused more side effects, including high blood pressure, but the benefits outweigh them, doctors said.

The results will change practice "pretty much overnight," said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for the group hosting the conference. Most men with prostate cancer that has spread will be eligible for Zytiga — about 25,000 each year in U.S. and more in other countries where more cases are found at a late stage, he said. Zytiga costs about $10,000 a month in the U.S.

Lung cancer

Roche's Alecensa stopped cancer growth for 15 months longer than Pfizer's Xalkori did in a study of 303 people with advanced lung cancer and a mutation in a gene called ALK. About 5 percent of lung cancer patients — 12,500 in the U.S. each year — have an ALK mutation, especially younger people and nonsmokers who get the disease.

Alecensa kept cancer from worsening for 26 months versus 11 months for Xalkori. It also penetrates the brain better: only 9 percent of those on it had their lung cancer spread to the brain during the first year of treatment versus 41 percent of those on Xalkori. Serious side effects and deaths were less common with Alecensa.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in December 2015 for ALK-related lung cancers that worsened despite trying Xalkori. The new study tested it as initial treatment and is aimed at getting full approval for that.

The cost: Xalkori is around $10,000 a month and Alecensa, about $12,500.

Breast cancer

For the first time, a new type of drug called a PARP inhibitor showed promise in a major study of women with inherited BRCA gene mutations that raise their risk of developing breast cancer. PARP inhibitors keep cancer cells from fixing problems in their DNA, and some are approved now for some ovarian cancers.

More: Read the full story at CBSNEWS.com

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