Clinical trials benefit patients

Many Irish breast cancer patients are benefiting from being able to join clinical trials that were not available in this country before, a major international conference on breast cancer in Galway has heard.

Prof John Crown, consultant medical oncologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Luke’s Hospital, Dublin, said it was very gratifying that many of the research studies presented at the conference had Irish input.

“Many Irish patients are joining trials who never had this opportunity before the Irish clinical oncology research group was set up,” he explained.

Prof Crown delivered the keynote lecture, entitled Future in Adjuvant Breast Cancer Treatment , at the second international breast cancer conference, which was held in NUI Galway at the weekend.

Adjuvant therapy uses chemotherapy drugs, radiation, hormone therapy, targeted therapy or a combination of these to help to destroy any cancer cells that are not removed during breast cancer surgery.

“Over the last 40 years, we made great progress with the relatively modest tools that we had available to us, like chemotherapy and hormone therapy, but we are now in the era of using new specific molecularly targeted drugs,” Prof Crown said.

“These drugs are already producing tremendous results in certain sub-groups of patients with breast cancer.”

The aim, according to Prof Crown, is to use these drugs during the early stages of breast cancer before the disease becomes too advanced.

He told the conference that it was very important to rethink the way in which clinical trials in breast cancer were done in the future.

“The relatively crude trials we did when all we had was chemotherapy are no longer appropriate in the modern era,” he said.

“Today’s trials must be scientifically informed and contain scientific and laboratory components.”

The main theme of the conference concerned multidisciplinary breast cancer care.

“The management of breast cancer has changed so that we now treat patients in a multidisciplinary team-based environment which raises many questions addressed at the conference including prolonged endocrine therapy, side effects of treatment, medico-legal issues and advances in areas such as surgery and radiotherapy,” said Prof Michael Kerin, professor of surgery, NUI Galway and conference convener.

He said the conference offered a great opportunity to promote discussion, debate and determine the current state-of-the-art strategy to individualise treatment.

The protagonists included all the major players in this country as well as leading international experts, he said.

Among the well-known international speakers in the field of breast cancer research were Prof Paul Goss, director of Breast Cancer Research and Avon Foundation Senior Scholar at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School; Prof Joe Ragaz, from McGill University, Canada; and Prof Carsten Rose, from Lund University Hospital, Sweden.

National delegates and speakers included Dr Fidelma Flanagan, Mater hospital; Prof Tom Gorey, Mater Hospital; Dr John Kennedy, St James’s Hospital; and Prof Frank Sullivan, University Hospital Galway.

The conference is held in conjunction with the Nottingham series of meetings which take place on alternate years.

© 2009 The Irish Times 24/06/09