Herceptin 'could reduce number of mastectomies'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Use of the drug Herceptin prior to surgery for breast cancer could reduce the number of mastectomies, scientists have said. The study, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, looked at the effect of Herceptin given in combination with chemotherapy before surgery, in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer that had started to spread. Researchers found that the drug completely eradicated the tumour in nearly twice as many patients (43 per cent) as when chemotherapy was used on its own (23 per cent). Professor L. Gianni, director of medical oncology at Milan's Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale Tumori, said: "Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is administered to patients to help render inoperable tumours removable. "The addition of Herceptin to neoadjuvant chemotherapy shows extremely positive benefits for patients." Dr Jean-Jacques Garaud, head of global drug development at Roche, commented: "These exciting results add to the substantial body of evidence of Herceptin as the foundation of care for HER2-positive breast cancer. "As well as providing proven survival benefits in advanced HER2-positive breast cancer, and the best chance of a cure in early breast cancer, Herceptin has now demonstrated its potential to lessen the extent of surgery required for patients with locally advanced disease, which is very welcome news for patients with this particularly aggressive form of breast cancer." Around 20 to 30 per cent of women with breast cancer are diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease.

Professor Alex Markham, senior medical advisor at Cancer Research UK, said that the early results were "exciting".

"Herceptin is currently used to treat advanced breast cancer, but this study has looked at using the drug in patients with a form of early disease," he said.

"The preliminary results are exciting and raise the possibility of being able to use breast conserving surgery for a greater number of women with HER2-positive breast cancer."