In the first in an ongoing series of answers to common questions received by the Basser Center, Executive Director Susan Domchek, MD, discusses recent advancements in treatment options for BRCA-related cancers, such as drugs like PARP inhibitors.

Dr. Domchek: We have a number of questions about the types of treatments available for individuals who are known to have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations and have cancer. The answer is that there are a lot of studies that are ongoing or that are underway. What we know about BRCA1/2 related cancers is that they tend to be more sensitive to certain types of chemotheraphy called platinum agents: cisplatin, carboplatin, oxaliplatin. For some tumors, these drugs are used routinely, and for others, less so. So if an individual is known to have a BRCA1/2 mutation, that should be considered in their treatment.

There are also drugs called PARP inhibitors, which have been approved specifically for BRCA1/2-related breast and ovarian cancers. These drugs are also used for ovarian cancer in general, but for BRCA2 mutation carriers, these can be obtained, through insurance authorization, for breast and ovarian cancer. There are studies that are underway looking at these drugs for prostate cancer and for pancreatic cancer associated with BRCA1/2 mutations. The next phase of research is really to see whether we can combine these PARP inhibitors with other drugs and make them more effective. And those combinations can be with other types of small molecule inhibitors, such as ATR or BET inhibitors, and also looking at the combination of these drugs with immune therapy agents.