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Herceptin: Long-Term Benefits for Breast Cancer

Study Shows Drug May Still Help Breast Cancer Patients Years After Ending Treatment

Questions Remain About Treatment Timing continued...

Herceptin is expensive, costing around $50,000 or more per year, and it is given by intravenous injection.

“With cost-effectiveness and patient convenience in mind, there is a lot of attention on how long to give this drug,” Perez tells WebMD. “It may be that two years is better than one, but it may also be that three months is better than two years.”

Treatment duration is just one of the unresolved issues surrounding the use of Herceptin in breast cancer.

In the HERA study, patients were treated with the drug following chemotherapy. But in other studies it has been given along with chemotherapy.

Several studies, including one led by Perez, have suggested that concurrent treatment may be most effective. But serious and even life-threatening heart problems have been reported in patients who took the drug with the chemotherapy drug anthracycline.

In an editorial published with the HERA data, a group of European researchers questioned the safety of giving the two drugs together.

In the U.S., Herceptin is usually given during chemotherapy but after anthracycline has been discontinued, Perez says.

She says heart problems have been very rare with this approach and were reversible when they did occur in the vast majority of cases.

“Questions remain about how to use [Herceptin],” she says. “But in terms of the management of patients with breast cancer, this is the most important drug we have seen in the last 15 years in term of changing outcomes.”

Herceptin is marketed by Genentech, which contributed funding for the HERA trial.

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