Treatment with existing drugs before standard treatment for cervical cancer may lead to a 35% reduction in the risk of death or the return of cancer, a study has suggested.
Researchers assessed whether a short course of induction chemotherapy (IC) – using a drug to destroy as many cancer cells as possible – before chemoradiation (CRT) could reduce rates of relapse and death.
They found that after five years, 80% of those who received IC plus CRT – a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy – were alive and 73% had not seen their cancer return or spread.
In the standard treatment group, 72% were alive and 64% had not seen their cancer return or spread.
Dr Mary McCormack, lead investigator of the trial from UCL Cancer Institute and UCLH, said: “Our trial shows that this short course of additional chemotherapy delivered immediately before the standard CRT can reduce the risk of the cancer returning or death by 35%.
“This is the biggest improvement in outcome in this disease in over 20 years.
“I’m incredibly proud of all the patients who participated in the trial; their contribution has allowed us to gather the evidence needed to improve treatment of cervical cancer patients everywhere.
“We couldn’t have done this without the generous support of Cancer Research UK.”
Cervical cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women in their early 30s, with around 3,200 new cases each year in the UK.
Since 1999, CRT has been the standard treatment, but despite improvements in radiation therapy techniques cancer returns in up to 30% of cases.
According to Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is around 70%.
Over 10 years, 500 patients took part in the Interlace trial at hospitals in the UK, Mexico, India, Italy and Brazil.
They had been diagnosed with cervical cancer which was large enough to be seen without a microscope but had not spread to other parts of the body.
Because the drugs required for IC, carboplatin and paclitaxel, are cheap, accessible and already approved for use in patients, the researchers say they could be incorporated into standard of care treatment relatively quickly.
Professor Jonathan Ledermann, senior author of the results from UCL Cancer Institute, said the findings were “an important advance in treatment”.
Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “Timing is everything when you’re treating cancer. The simple act of adding induction chemotherapy to the start of chemoradiation treatment for cervical cancer has delivered remarkable results in this trial.
“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.
“Not only can it reduce the chances of cancer coming back, it can be delivered quickly using drugs already available worldwide.
“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.”
The preliminary results were presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology congress.