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Herceptin therapy should start during chemotherapy, study says

December 12, 2009 |  6:00 am

Herceptin Women with a type of breast cancer referred to as HER-2 positive are typically prescribed the medication Herceptin to lower the risk of cancer recurrence. A study published today makes clear that Herceptin therapy should begin at the same time as chemotherapy, not after chemotherapy is concluded.

In about a quarter of women with breast cancer, a protein called HER-2 is over-produced. Dr. Edith Perez, a breast cancer researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and her colleagues looked at a large group of women taking either chemotherapy alone, chemotherapy first and later Herceptin, or chemotherapy and Herceptin at the same time. The Herceptin was given for 52 weeks. They found the five-year survival rate increased to 84% among women taking the drugs concurrently versus 80% among those taking the drugs sequentially. The women who took chemotherapy alone had a five-year survival rate of 72%.*

U.S. women can opt to take Herceptin with chemotherapy or afterward. But, elsewhere in the world, Herceptin is typically prescribed after chemotherapy, said Perez, chairwoman of the North Central Cancer Treatment Group Breast Committee.

"The results of this trial have been eagerly awaited in the U.S. and in many nations, as this is the only trial developed to define the optimal way to incorporate Herceptin in the context of adjuvant chemotherapy," Perez said in a news release. "The goal was to decrease the risk of cancer recurrence, and we have shown that concurrent use is the best way to achieve that."

The study was presented today at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Also presented at the meeting was research that found a combination of Herceptin and the drug Tykerb extended the lives of women with breast cancer who had stopped responding to other therapies. Women in the trial had already received Herceptin alone or with other drugs. But the combination of Herceptin and Tykerb appeared to yield the most benefit.

- Shari Roan

* An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that women who took Herceptin alone had a five-year survival rate of 72%.

Photo credit: Carlos Chavez

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