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Aggressive Breast Cancer Meets Its Match

By Joseph Masilamany

Dr.Martin ... new hope for breast cancer patients.

7 May 2009 - An aggressive form of breast cancer, known in medical circles as HER2-positive metastatic tumour can now be stopped in its tracks – and its progression delayed or even “starved”, say researchers.

Studies have established that HER2-positive (HER2-P) breast cancer, which is usually treated with the hormonal therapy, letrozole, can now be better contained when administered together with lapatinib – a drug that specifically targets HER2-P cancer cells.

In the study, participated by 200 women with metastatic HER2-P (that had not been previously treated), the results were more than promising, with some tumours seen to have shrunk to stage 1 settings.

There are four stages in cancer with stage four being terminal.

In the study, revealed at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas last year – half of the women were treated with letrozole alone – while the other half received a combo-therapy of both, letrozole and lapatinib.

About 38% of the HER2-P patients treated with the combo-cocktail had a partial or complete response to treatment, compared to 15% of the cancers treated with a single dosing of letrozole.

It was also noted, that in the combo-cocktail group, the cancers had stopped growing 29% longer – while 50% of the tumours treated with the lapatinib-letrozole combination were stable (no change in tumour size and pathology) as compared to 30% of those treated with letrozole only.

HER2-P spreads insidiously and it accounts for one in four of all breast cancers reported worldwide.

Speaking to the Sun recently, clinical oncologist, Dr Martin Melor, of the Subang Jaya Sime Darby Medical Centre, said that HER2-P breast cancers have too many copies of the HER2/neu gene which over expresses the HER2 protein.

Martin, who attended the San Antonio symposium, issued an upbeat note on this new area of research. He said with further “positive findings” on this potential combo-therapy, oncologists may be able to better manage and treat their patients afflicted with the HER2-P type of breast cancer.

Lapatinib, which is available in the country, is developed by pharmaceutical giant, Glaxosmithkline.

It has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to be used in combination with the chemotherapy drug, capacitabine.