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Health Information Under the Microscope: Improving Breast Cancer Treatment

A new, more effective treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer receives FDA approval. 

Patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease, now have a new, more effective treatment option with potentially fewer side effects.

Due in part to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center, in February the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the new drug T-DM1, alsoknown as Kadcyla, which is a combination of the widely used breast cancer medicine traztuzumab — best known by its brand name, Herceptin — and the chemotherapy drug emtansine. The drug treats breast cancers that have increased amounts of the HER2 protein, which account for approximately 20 percent of all cases.

Results from clinical trials of T-DM1 showed that it was more effective and less toxic than standard treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer. Patients who took T-DM1 had progressive-free survival — the amount of time between the start of treatment and when the cancer gets worse — of 9.6 months compared to 6.4 months for those who received the standard treatment.

"The treatment works by hunting down and interfering with the cancer cells," says Melody Cobleigh, MD, director of the Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Breast Cancer Clinic at Rush and lead investigator of the T-DM1 clinical trials at the Medical Center.

A Less Toxic Alternative to Chemotherapy

T-DM1 is administered directly to the cells that have the HER2 protein, sparing normal cells. This results in less toxicity than other treatments.

"Essentially, the tumor eats the T-DM1, and then the T-DM1 gets released and destroys the tumor cell from the inside out," Cobleigh says. "It delivers a one-two punch, seeking out the cancer cells and not only stopping growth but delivering the chemo right to the cell. The best part for patients is that it is very tolerable and does not have the debilitating side effects characteristic of other cancer drugs."

In clinical trials, patients taking T-DM1 did not lose their hair, and they experienced far fewer side effects overall.

"It gives patients an opportunity to lead more normal lives during treatment," Cobleigh says.


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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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April 2013 


 

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