This Treatment Could Keep Breast Cancer Away

HER2 positive breast cancer patients receiving trastuzumab and paclitaxel had low recurrence rates

(RxWiki News) The treatment of one type of breast cancer may be getting a makeover — and it might keep cancer from coming back.

A new standard of treatment might be on the way to treat patients with small HER2-positive breast cancer tumors. A new study found that a combination of the medications paclitaxel (Taxol) and trastuzumab (Herceptin) prevented breast cancer recurrence over a four-year period.

"Women with small, HER2- positive ... breast tumors have a low, but still significant, risk of recurrence of their disease," said senior study author Eric P. Winer, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, in a press release. "This study demonstrates that a combination of lower-intensity chemotherapy and trastuzumab — which is associated with fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy regimens — is an appealing standard of care for this group of patients."

HER2-positive tumors have high levels of human epidermal growth factor receptor type-2 (HER2). This receptor can speed up cancer cell growth. The medication trastuzumab can block the HER2 receptor. This can prevent tumor growth.

Large past trials have shown that patients with advanced tumors have improved outcomes when trastuzumab is combined with chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is another anti-cancer treatment. It affects cancer cells throughout in the body and is beneficial in case the cancer has spread. However, because it can cause strong side effects, it is sometimes not used when the risk of cancer coming back (recurrence) is low. For patients with small node-negative HER2-positive tumors with a low risk of recurrence, there is not an agreed-upon standard of care when it comes to chemotherapy.

To look at the impact of combining lower-intensity chemotherapy with trastuzumab, Dr. Winer and team looked at 406 patients with small node-negative HER2-positive tumors. Patients received 12 weekly treatments of paclitaxel and trastuzumab, and an additional nine months of trastuzumab therapy alone.

Dr. Winer and team thought that this combined therapy could provide effective treatment with reduced side effects. After three years, 98.7 percent of patients were free from cancer.

This study is a promising step in reducing side effects by treating small tumors differently than big tumors, Dr. Winer and team said.

The study was published Jan. 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Genentech funded this research. Conflict of interest disclosures were not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
January 7, 2015