Herceptin study gives fresh hope to breast cancer sufferers

Women with early breast cancer who are treated with the drug Herceptin have almost a 50% reduced risk of the disease returning, according to research published today.

Women with early breast cancer who are treated with the drug Herceptin have almost a 50% reduced risk of the disease returning, according to research published today.

Campaigners hope the study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, will help speed up access to the drug which has so far been limited.

Interim results from the HERA (Herceptin Adjuvant) study released last year led to a standing ovation among cancer specialist attending a US conference.

Now the results have been published, confirming that Herceptin reduced the risk of disease coming back in women with early-stage HER-2 positive cancer by 46%.

When they are diagnosed, women can be tested for the HER2 receptor, which indicates whether they may benefit from Herceptin.

But these women will still have to wait until the drug is licensed for use in early breast cancer before they have the treatment.

The research published today, which involved more than 5,000 patients in 39 countries, found that there were 220 recurrences of cancer in the women who did not receive Herceptin, compared to 127 in the group that had the drug for a year.

Herceptin is given to women after they have had surgery to remove the tumour, followed by chemotherapy.

Dr Martine Piccart, lead investigator of the HERA study, said: “Breast cancer is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease, but with appropriate and timely treatment in the early stages, many women can improve their chances of long-term survival.

“For women with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer, results from the HERA study provide some much-needed optimism.

“The study showed that Herceptin, a drug designed specifically for HER2-positive breast cancer, can remarkably reduce the risk of cancer returning.”

The researcher added: “I can’t stress enough how crucial it is that all patients’ breast tumours are tested appropriately at initial diagnosis, and if patients are HER2-positive, that they have access to Herceptin.”

In a commentary also published in the journal Dr Harold Burstein, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the US, said the study showed dramatic progress for patients with HER-2 positive breast tumours.

“This is probably the biggest evidence of a treatment effect I’ve ever seen in oncology,” he said. “It is quite remarkable.”

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