A drug that has been used to help the sickest breast cancer patients now shows promise in treating women in the early stages of a virulent type of the disease, the National Cancer Institute said Monday. "This is a major advance for many thousands of women with breast cancer," said Andrew von Eschenbach, NCI's director.
The biotechnology company Genentech, which makes the drug Herceptin, said it will discuss with federal regulators the possibility of prescribing the drug for more breast cancer patients. In two human experiments that spanned five years and included more than 5,000 volunteers, the drug--when given with chemotherapy--extended the life expectancy of women who have a genetic mutation that shows up in about 30% of breast cancer cases. The tumors of patients with that particular genetic mutation tend to grow faster and recur more often than other types of breast cancer, according to the NCI, which sponsored the two clinical trials. Tumors in women given Herceptin were 52% less likely to recur than in patients who did not receive the drug.
Herceptin is a so-called targeted therapy because of its ability to attack diseased cells and leave healthy ones alone.
Neither the company nor the NCI provided further data. They said more details would be announced at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting next month.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Some 40,000 women die of the disease each year, and another 211,000 are diagnosed annually. Studies have shown that lesbians may have a higher risk of breast cancer than heterosexual women. (AP, with additional reporting by Advocate.com)