Researchers funded by Cancer Research UK have made the biggest improvement in cervical cancer treatment in more than 20 years by changing how we use existing drugs.
Results from the INTERLACE trial show that giving cervical cancer patients a short course of chemotherapy before starting the standard treatment cuts the risk of death or of the disease returning by 35%.
Around 3,300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the UK (2017-2019). Sadly, there are around 860 yearly UK deaths from the disease (2018-2019, 2021).
Since 1999, doctors have treated it with a course of chemoradiation (CRT), a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The new study shows that six weeks of induction chemotherapy before CRT helps more people survive without their cancer returning.
After 5 years, 80% of trial participants who received induction chemotherapy followed by CRT were alive and 73% had not seen their cancer return or spread. By contrast, 72% who received standard treatment were alive and 64% had not seen their cancer return or spread.
“Timing is everything when you’re treating cancer,” said Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK. “The simple act of adding induction chemotherapy to the start of chemoradiation treatment for cervical cancer has delivered remarkable results in this trial.”
And, because the two chemotherapy drugs used for the induction treatment are cheap, easily accessible and already approved for use, experts say they could become a new standard of care relatively quickly.
“This is the biggest improvement in outcome in this disease in over 20 years,” said Dr Mary McCormack, the lead investigator of the trial from University College London’s Cancer Institute and University College London hospital. “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.”
There’s hope the approach could also lead to similar breakthroughs for other cancers too. “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,” said Foulkes. “Not only can it reduce the chances of cancer coming back, it can be delivered quickly using drugs already available worldwide.”