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In HER2 positive early breast cancer 6 months treatment with Herceptin is as good as 12 months for preventing cancer return

Professor David Cameron and Doctor Peter Hall from the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre contributed to the PERSEPHONE clinical trial that provided crucial new insights into treatment of breast cancer patients with drug Herceptin: June 2019

Herceptin works by attaching itself to the HER2 receptors on the surface of breast cancer cells and blocking them from receiving growth signals. Image shows light and heavy chains of Herceptin bound to the extracellular region of Her2. [Author: Simon Caulton, Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Herceptin works by attaching itself to the HER2 receptors on the surface of breast cancer cells and blocking them from receiving growth signals. Image shows light and heavy chains of Herceptin bound to the extracellular region of Her2. [Author: Simon Caulton, Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Most clinical trials in cancer assess either new treatments or additional treatments to the current standard of care, but equally important questions for patients and healthcare professionals concern reduction in the length of treatments and attendant toxicities and whether this can be achieved without any worsening of outcomes.

Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) is often used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer that is either early-stage or advanced-stage/metastatic, and the PERSEPHONE trial (led by Professor Helena Earl from Cambridge) aimed to assess whether women with early breast cancer can safely have trastuzumab for 6 months instead of 12.

Important results from the study were recently published in a leading medical journal “The Lancet” with contributions from the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre researchers. The study titled “6 versus 12 months of adjuvant trastuzumab for HER2-positive early breast cancer (PERSEPHONE): 4-year disease-free survival results of a randomised phase 3 non-inferiority trial” demonstrated that women treated with 6 months of Herceptin for HER2 positive early breast cancer did as well in terms of their risk of breast cancer returning as those getting the currently conventional 12 months treatment. Six months also significantly reduced treatment related side effects, including heart problems.

The trial was funded by the National Institute for Health Research with translational research funded by Cancer Research UK. It recruited over 4000 women with HER2-positive early-stage breast cancer. The results are likely to have far reaching implications in treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer patients.

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