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Health Information New Breast Cancer Drug Approved

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 2013 the Food and Drug Administration approved the new drug T-DM1, which is a combination of the widely used breast cancer medicine 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 progression-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.

"Essentially, the tumor eats the T-DM1, and then the T-DM1 is released and destroys the tumor cell from the inside out," says medical oncologist Melody Cobleigh, MD. "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 side effects of other cancer drugs."

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