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Drug Combo Wipes Out Tumor Cells

Herceptin-Tykerb Combo Helps Before Surgery for Early Breast Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 10, 2010 (San Antonio) -- Giving a combination of the targeted drugs Herceptin and Tykerb before breast cancer surgery wipes out tumor cells in about twice as many women as either drug alone.

Both drugs target a protein called HER2 that is overproduced in about 25% of breast cancers. Herceptin blocks the protein on the surface of the cell and Tykerb works inside the cell.

In the study, about 450 women getting chemotherapy were given Herceptin, Tykerb, or a combination of the two.

Tumor cells were eradicated in 51% of women given both drugs, compared with 30% of those given Herceptin alone and 25% of those given Tykerb alone.

The one-two punch has already been shown to extend the lives of women with advanced breast cancer when given after surgery.

The new approach, which involves giving women with early breast cancer the drugs before surgery, holds the possibility of "enhancing the number of women cured and sparing women from [costly] therapies down the road," said study head Jose Baselga, MD, PhD, chief of the division of hematology and oncology and associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston.

The women in the current study haven’t been followed for long enough to prove the combo extends lives. But studies in which Herceptin is given after surgery show that 88% of women with HER2-positive breast cancer are alive and free of cancer five years after treatment, he tells WebMD.

Based on the current findings, you would expect giving the combination of Herceptin and Tykerb before surgery and giving Herceptin after surgery would increase that figure to about 90%, Baselga says.

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