Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center


Breast cancer trial highlights

VCU Massey Cancer Center is currently conducting more than 20 breast cancer clinical trials throughout the state of Virginia to discover new and better ways to treat and prevent breast cancer. The trials are for early, advanced, metastatic and invasive stages of breast cancer. Two Phase III clinical trials at VCU Massey are stepping up the fight. One, NSABP B-39, aims to shorten radiation treatments from five days a week for up to seven weeks to just twice a day for two to five days, while the other — NSABP B-41 — adds a new, and potentially more effective, drug combination therapy for aggressive HER2-positive breast cancer.

“Whether through new techniques or drugs that work on a molecular level, clinical trials bring promising new treatments to the fight against cancer,” says Harry Bear, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Division of Surgical Oncology at VCU Massey Cancer Center and lead investigator of these trials. “The therapies in these clinical trials have been found to be effective in earlier studies and are now being tested head-to-head against current standards of care.”

More than 4,000 patients from across the U.S. will participate in the NSABP B-39 clinical trial. It was designed by Massey’s Douglas W. Arthur, M.D., in collaboration with surgeons and radiation oncology investigators from around the country, and compares the effectiveness of whole breast irradiation to partial breast irradiation in women with stage 0, I or II breast cancer who have undergone lumpectomies. Whereas whole breast irradiation irradiates the entire breast, partial breast irradiation works by targeting the site of the tumor using concentrated radiation applied either externally or internally. The targeted irradiation treatments occur twice a day for two to five days — a significant reduction compared to the seven weeks needed to complete whole breast irradiation treatments.

The NSABP B-41 trial tests the beneficial effects of a new targeted drug combination, lapatinib (also known as Tykerb) and trastuzumab (also known as Herceptin), on patients with HER2-positive breast cancer who have not yet had surgery. Conventional therapies for HER2-positive breast cancer often include chemotherapy involving paclitaxel (also known as Taxol) to kill cancer cells, combined with trastuzumab, which targets receptors on the surface of cells to block HER2 growth signals. Lapatinib also blocks the action of the HER2 protein, but does so through an inside-out mechanism within the cell as opposed to using surface receptors. After drug therapy, patients undergo surgery to remove any remaining tumor, and tissue samples are analyzed to compare the effectiveness of each treatment. Researchers hope this study can predict which tumors will be completely killed by these drug combinations.

“The discoveries being made at VCU Massey and other top cancer centers are bringing new hope to those suffering with these diseases. And patients in clinical trials are literally leading the fight,” says Bear.

For more information about these and other breast cancer trials, call Martha Wellons at (804) 628-1939. VCU Massey Cancer Center has one of the largest offerings of clinical trials in Virginia evaluating the latest cancer treatments for adult and pediatric patients, with more than 100 trials on more than 20 types of cancers from breast and brain, to leukemia, prostate, lung and more. View a complete list of all active clinical trials available at VCU Massey.