Herceptin Shows Great Promise in Treatment of Breast Cancer

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Breast Cancer Treatment and Herceptin

Recent studies show the drug Herceptin holds huge promise for women with a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer that affects approximately 20-30 percent of women with the disease. Herceptin is currently used to treat women with advanced cancer whose tumors have too much of a protein, called HER-2, that causes the cancer to grow and spread faster.

Last month, the National Cancer Institute announced that the drug cuts recurrences in half when given with chemotherapy to women with early-stage disease. This week, researchers presented more detailed findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

"These dramatic results were met with continuous, astounding applause," said William Gradishar, MD, director of breast oncology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an investigator on the studies. "Results from these studies consistently demonstrated across the board that there is a clear advantage to using Herceptin as part of the treatment regimen in patients with this type of breast cancer. This will unequivocally change the way we practice medicine."

The findings came from three large studies of women with early-stage, HER-2-positive breast cancer. After initial treatment of the tumor, some women received standard chemotherapy, while others were given chemotherapy plus Herceptin. After about two years, those treated with Herceptin had a 52 percent lower risk of their breast cancer returning.

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"I will begin treating the appropriate patients with Herceptin immediately," adds Dr. Gradishar. "This drug could represent a cure for many women who previously would have been given a poor prognosis."

Follow-up research will be needed to learn the best strategy for giving Herceptin to women with early breast cancer, and learning how to minimize the side effects on the heart.

Women who take the drug must be carefully monitored for heart damage because Herceptin can sometimes cause congestive heart failure, as can some of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat this aggressive breast cancer. About three to four percent of the women in the studies developed this side effect, and it was serious in some of them. In some women, the symptoms went away after stopping treatment.

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Northwestern Memorial Hospital - 05/19/2005

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