The breast cancer drug Herceptin increases survival of women with a particularly deadly type of the disease by 24%, according to a study published in today's New England Journal of Medicine. The study, led by Dr. Dennis Slamon of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center, was conducted on 469 women whose breast cancer had spread to other parts of the body. The women's cancers were also known to make abnormal amounts of a protein called HER2.
In the study, half the women were given standard chemotherapy and the other half received chemotherapy as well as Herceptin, a genetically engineered antibody that attaches to HER2 and curtails the cancer cells' growth. The group receiving Herceptin experienced a longer average time to disease progression (7.4 vs. 4.6 months), responded to treatment for longer periods (9.1 vs. 6.1 months), had a better survival rate at one year (22% vs. 33%) and longer overall survival (25.1 vs. 20.3 months).
However, women receiving Herceptin were also more likely to experience potentially serious heart problems. This must be considered when deciding who should receive Herceptin, the authors say.