Hearing the words you have breast cancer are devastating, but to learn it's the most aggressive kind can make you feel hopeless.

When a woman is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer she is already at stage IV.

This advance stage of breast cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes and possibly beyond to other organs like the bones, lungs, liver or brain.

The five year survival rate for this type of breast cancer is 22 percent, but a new class of drugs just approved by the FDA is changing that.

“What we're seeing now is that we're seeing such a growth in our understanding of what makes a cancer cell grow that we have really precise treatments based on the science that we've discovered," said Dr. Denise Yardley.

Dr. Yardley is a principal investigator for CDK4/6 inhibitors that has been shown to extend the life of these breast cancer patients. “I think what is remarkable is that in the clinical trials it really showed that this doubled the amount of time that the patients could stay on this therapy extended to two years giving them excellent quality of life, giving them a tablet therapy along with their hormonal therapy and keeping their disease from growing and keeping them away from chemotherapy."

The other benefit is that the therapy is taken at home as a daily pill.

“They can come in get their prescription and go home and take their pills at home," Yardley adds. The side effects are also not as extreme as chemotherapy, “The hairless, nausea, vomiting, immune suppression; we really don't see that with some of these new very specialized biologic targeted therapies for patients."

This new class of inhibitors is extending the life of metastatic breast cancer patients and while it isn't a cure, Dr. Yardley believes it could lead to one. “We may see a cure for advanced breast cancer but for right now we're improving their quality of life, extending their disease and improving their survival.

"Turning that disease into a chronic disease much like diabetes which we're not curing but they do have treatment and with treatment they have excellent quality of life."

You should discuss this therapy with your oncologist to make sure it's the right one for you.

  • American Cancer Society: Breast cancer survival rates, by stage. Available at this link.
  • American Cancer Society: How do you determine the stage of breast cancer? Available at this link.
  • Roberts, Patrick J., et al. “Multiple roles of cyclin-dependent kinase 4/6 inhibitors in cancer therapy.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 104.6 (2012):476-487

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