A Knockout Punch for Early HER2 Breast Cancer

HER2 positive breast cancers responded to Taxol and Herceptin

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) About one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer have too much of a protein called HER2, which makes the cancer more likely to grow faster and return. New research has some good news for women with this cancer.

In a phase ll trial, all but a few women with HER-2 positive breast cancer were disease-free more than three years after receiving mild chemotherapy and the targeted therapy, Herceptin (trastuzumab).

The authors of this study suggested these findings should be regarded as a new standard of care for treating small HER2-positive breast cancers.

"Consider genetic testing following a cancer diagnosis."

Eric Winer, MD, chief of the division of Women’s Cancers in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, led this trial that evaluated a combination therapy given to women with small HER2-positive breast cancers.

HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) breast cancer has traditionally been treated with powerful chemotherapies and Herceptin, a medication that targets the HER2 protein, to keep the disease from returning. The combination of agents can produce some toxic side effects and increase long-term risks of heart disease and blood cancer.

This multi-center trial involved 406 patients with HER2-positive breast cancer whose tumors were relatively small (3 cm or less).

“Smaller, HER2-positive, node-negative [no sign of spread to the lymph nodes] breast cancers are thought to have a high-enough chance of recurring that many doctors have offered patients a combination of chemotherapy and Herceptin to reduce that risk,” Dr. Winer explained in a prepared statement.

Dr. Winer and colleagues tested a relatively mild chemotherapy agent, Taxol (paclitaxel), and Herceptin to treat women with small HER2-positive cancers.

Following their surgery to remove the cancer tumor, participants received the combined treatment for 12 weeks. The women then received Herceptin alone for nine months.

The researchers followed members of the study for a median of 3.6 years. During that time, less than 2 percent of the women saw their cancer return or developed any other health problems.

“The findings suggest that for many women with this type of breast cancer, this regimen should be considered one of the standard strategies for recurrence prevention,” Dr. Winer concluded.

Results from the BETH trial were presented at the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

All research is considered preliminary before being published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Several of the authors disclosed financial relationships with Genetech, the maker of Herceptin.

Review Date: 
December 10, 2013
Last Updated:
December 11, 2013