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Herceptin May Boost Long-Term Survival After Aggressive Breast Cancer
Date:2/25/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- The cancer drug Herceptin produces significantly longer disease-free survival in women with an aggressive type of early-stage breast cancer who take the drug for a year after standard chemotherapy, a new study suggests.

After analyzing more than 5,000 women from 39 countries between December 2001 and June 2005, Herceptin appeared to reduce the likelihood of a cancer recurrence by 24 percent, the Italian researchers said.

Herceptin (trastuzumab) is a monoclonal antibody that suppresses the HER2/neu protein, which fuels 20 percent to 30 percent of breast cancers. These so-called HER2-positive cancers tend to be aggressive and fast-growing.

"We were inclined to consider the possibility that long-term exposure to trastuzumab deserved a proper test and might be useful," said study author Dr. Luca Gianni, a researcher at Fondazione San Raffaele in Milan.

But while Herceptin patients in the four-year study experienced longer disease-free survival times than patients in an observation group taking chemotherapy alone, the overall risk of death was similar between the two groups.

Gianni attributed this to the fact that 52 percent of patients from the observation group crossed over to receive Herceptin treatment midway through the research because of the drug's impressive early results.

The study received funding from Hoffman-La Roche, the maker of Herceptin, and is published in the Feb. 25 issue of The Lancet Oncology.

"It is very difficult to account for the bias introduced by the late introduction of trastuzumab in more than half of the patients originally randomized to no therapy," Gianni said. "However, it is reasonable to think that the lack of a measurable improvement of survival in the current analysis was due to the effect of the introduction of trastuzumab therapy in a large proportion of women who selecte
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