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06/15/2009 - Questions and Answers

Herceptin for breast cancer

By: Novoviva webmaster

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I've heard so much about Herceptin curing breast cancer. I've a friend who has cancer, and I'd like to know if this drug could help her.

Question

I've heard so much about Herceptin curing breast cancer. I've a friend who has cancer, and I'd like to know if this drug could help her.

 

Answer

Breast cancer is a disease with four or more varieties, and cancer specialists are learning the best treatments for each. Often a treatment for one type may not work for another.
 

About 15% to 20% of all women with breast cancer are HER2-positive, i.e. their cells contain the HER2 gene. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine has reviewed three studies of treating these tumors with Herceptin. The results are 'simply stunning', according to another expert writing in the same journal.
 

Herceptin was given in addition to surgery and conventional chemotherapy. Within a brief follow-up period (1 to 2½ years) all three studies showed highly significant reductions in the risk of a recurrence "of a magnitude seldom observed in oncology trials". The risks of recurrences or distant metastases were about halved.
 

These findings caused a stir last month when they were released. However, you must remember that Herceptin won't help 4 out of 5 women with breast cancer (because they're not HER2-positive). And, in those taking Herceptin, there was a 4% incidence of toxic effects on the heart, which might be fatal.
 

Herceptin is obviously a great step forward in treating breast cancer. We must hope for similar 'breakthroughs' for the other 3 types of the cancer.
 

Related Links
Genentech: Herceptin
National Cancer Institute: Herceptin Studies

Created on: 01/02/2006
Reviewed on: 06/15/2009

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