According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is estimated to be the most common cancer among women, with 29% of all cancer cases, and is the second leading cause of death among patients with cancer, after lung cancer. These are the 2016 estimates, but 2017 may be the turning point for the fight against breast cancer worldwide!
A group of scientists in the UK have found that a combination of two already known medications promises the end of breast cancer as we know it.
By combining Trastuzumab (the generic name for Herceptin) and Lapatinib (Tyverb) in an experimental treatment, they have found the potential cure for HER2 positive breast cancer.
The Guardian reports that around a quarter of 66 women with HER2 positive breast cancer were treated with both Herceptin and Tyverb for 11 days before surgery.
When the results came in, the research team were astonished. In 17% of the patients, the tumors had significantly shrunk and in 11% of the patients the tumors had disappeared completely! This means that some women can avoid subsequent chemotherapy altogether while at the same time be cured of cancer with very low chances of remission.
Of course, a lot more needs to be done for this to become practice. The current licensing for Herceptin states that it is only available for use in combination with chemotherapy, and not alone. “Yet before this can be made available we need to see more evidence.” said Professor Nigel Bundred, from the University of Manchester and the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS foundation trust, who presented the data.
HER2 positive breast cancer is an invasive type of breast cancer that has a rapid growth rate. This is because it has a high number of receptors for the human epidermal growth factor (HER2) on the surfaces of the cancer cells. HER2 positive breast cancers have a quicker growth rate than the HER2 negative ones and the new discovery in the research field means that many women can be saved from a fast growing cancer.
“For some HER2 positive breast cancer patients the effect of this drug combination will be amazing and mean they can avoid chemotherapy and its gruelling side effects completely. For others, their tumours may not shrink, but doctors will know either way very quickly, giving them the ability to rapidly decide on further treatment.” said Professor Nigel Bundred on the 10th European Breast Cancer Conference.