NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — Some people are calling a new breast cancer drug ‘groundbreaking’ for a number of reasons.

The experimental drug is the latest example of what has been dubbed ‘targeted therapy’ which uses drugs that go after the very specific biochemical pathways that cancer cells use to divide and multiply, CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

Targeted therapy allows patients to undergo more effective treatments with fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy. Chemotherapy involves a toxic mix of drugs that go after virtually all of the rapidly dividing cells in the body, even the ones that are not cancerous which is why hair loss is a common side effect.

Now, a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in San Diego has taken a different approach to treating advanced breast cancer.

“It specifically targets an enzyme that’s in the growth pathway of certain breast cancer cells,” Dr. Tessa Cigler, New York Presbyterian-Cornell Weill, explained.

As Dr. Tessa Cigler of the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center explained, there is a chemical signal in cancer cells that allows them to divide out of control depending on certain enzymes. A new drug called Palbociclub blocks those chemical signals rendering the cancer cells dormant.

The study looked at 165 post-menopausal women with advanced breast cancer, all of them had estrogen receptor positive tumors.

One group was given a standard estrogen blocking drug, the other was given the same drug as well as the study drug.

On average, it took just over ten months for the tumors in the control group to begin growing. Women in the experimental group went more than 20 months before their tumors progressed.

The study could herald a new approach to cancer therapy. Just because a cancer occurs in the breast it may not be the same as other forms of breast cancers and should not be treated the same way.

“More and more we’re able to characterize these breast cancers on a molecular level. It’s really the holy grail of oncology treatment in general,” Dr. Cigler explained.

The study was relatively small and will likely have to be confirmed by a larger study before the FDA approves the drug or others like it which are also being tested.

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