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Immunotherapy scores a first win against some breast cancers

This undated fluorescence-colored microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health in September 2016 shows a culture of human breast cancer cells. For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. | Ewa Krawczyk/National Cancer Institute via AP

This undated fluorescence-colored microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health in September 2016 shows a culture of human breast cancer cells. For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. | Ewa Krawczyk/National Cancer Institute via AP

For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. But the benefit for most women was small, raising questions about whether the treatment is worth its high cost and side effects.

Drugs that activate the immune system have transformed cancer care. The new study tested one called Tecentriq (tay-SEN-trik) for cancers not fueled by hormones or a common gene mutation. Women given the drug plus chemo went about two months longer before their cancer worsened compared to others given just the chemo.

Results were discussed Saturday at a cancer conference in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.