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Tweaks to Breast Cancer Treatments Boost Outcomes
Date:12/11/2009

In one study, longer Herceptin use helped beat back the disease

FRIDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- With a growing array of choices for breast cancer treatment, researchers are now trying to pinpoint the best combination of therapies or the best order in which to give cancer drugs to patients.

In some cases, combination therapies will improve survival and sometimes the order in which therapies are given does not matter, said experts presenting new data at a Friday press briefing at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

"The most dramatic finding [presented at the briefing] is that continuing Herceptin therapy after tumor progression improves survival," said moderator Dr. Edith Perez, director of the Breast Cancer Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. "It is the first time this has been shown."

In that study, Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, director of the Clinical Trials Program in Breast Cancer at Duke University Medical Center, reported that combining the drug lapatinib (Tykerb) with trastuzumab (Herceptin) was better than single-drug therapy in women who have HER2-positive breast cancer that has spread.

Cancers that are HER2-positive test positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, which fuels cancer cell growth.

Tykerb inhibits HER2 and the receptor, while Herceptin binds to the ER2 protein -- a kind of double-punch, the researcher explained.

Blackwell reported on 296 women with breast cancer that had spread. Half got the drug Tykerb, 1,500 milligrams a day; the other half got 1,000 milligrams of Tykerb a day plus the Herceptin at a dose geared to their body weight.

The women's tumors had already progressed while on a number of other treatments, so they were running out of options.

The findings? "There was significant improvement in overall survival in favor of the combination of lapatinib and trastuzumab compared to the single
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