Scientists say already-available drugs could lead to a 35% reduction in deaths caused by cervical cancer, labelling their findings as the biggest breakthrough in treating the disease for over 20 years.
Researchers from UCL Cancer Institute and UCLH say a short course of induction chemotherapy (IC) before standard treatment for cervical cancer, chemoradiation (CRT), could reduce rates of relapse and death significantly.
Cervical cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women in their early 30s, with about 3,200 new cases each year in the UK.
It is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, according to the World Health Organization.
The trial found that after five years, 80% of those with cancer who received IC plus CRT – a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy – were alive and 73% had not seen it return or spread.
In the regular treatment group, 72% of those with cancer were alive and 64% had not seen it return or spread.
Dr Mary McCormack, lead investigator of the trial, called it “the biggest improvement in outcome in this disease in over 20 years”.
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 trial, which involved 500 patients across the UK, Mexico, India, Italy and Brazil, took place over a 10-year period.
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.
It could mean the first shake-up in how cervical cancer is treated 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%.
Professor Jonathan Ledermann, senior author of the results from UCL Cancer Institute, said the findings were “an important advance in treatment”.
Dr McCormack added: “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.”
The preliminary results were presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology congress.