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Herceptin plus Taxol very effective in treating some lower-risk breast cancer patients

After 3 years, 98.7 percent are cancer-free

MAYWOOD, Ill. – A remarkable 98.7 percent of certain lower-risk breast cancer patients were cancer-free for at least three years after taking a combination of the drugs Herceptin and Taxol, a study has found.

The study is the first major trial to examine the Herceptin-Taxol combination in patients who have a type of breast cancer with the biology known as small, node-negative, HER2+. Results were presented during the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

“This is great news for patients and their physicians,” said Kathy Albain, MD, of Loyola University Medical Center, who is one of the co-authors of the national multicenter study. “This study identifies a new treatment option for this population of patients that is highly effective and has minimal side effects.” First author is Sara Tolaney, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

About 1 in 4 breast patients have HER2+ breast cancer, meaning their cancer cells have a receptor protein on the surface known as HER2 (Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2).

Herceptin is part of the well-established standard of care for higher-risk HER2+ patients. But there currently is no single standard treatment for patients with the lower-risk HER2+ biology. In these patients, their tumors are small and the cancer has not spread to lymph nodes. Some of these patients currently are not receiving Herceptin, while others are being treated with Herceptin plus more toxic chemotherapy drugs.

The new study finds that an in-between treatment – Herceptin plus the chemotherapy drug Taxol – is highly effective, with few adverse effects. Of the 406 patients studied, only 3.2 percent experienced severe neuropathy and only 0.5 percent had symptoms of congestive heart failure, which resolved after they discontinued Herceptin.

Loyola enrolled patients in the trial and Albain is principal investigator for the Loyola site. She is a professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and directs Loyola’s breast clinical research program.

The Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division (HSD) advances interprofessional, multidisciplinary, and transformative education and research while promoting service to others through stewardship of scientific knowledge and preparation of tomorrow's leaders. The HSD is located on the Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, Illinois. It includes the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, the Stritch School of Medicine, the biomedical research programs of the Graduate School, and several other institutes and centers encouraging new research and interprofessional education opportunities across all of Loyola University Chicago. The faculty and staff of the HSD bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a strong commitment to seeing that Loyola's health sciences continue to excel and exceed the standard for academic and research excellence. For more on the HSD, visit LUC.edu/hsd.

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