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Combined treatment could help HER2 tumours shrink before surgery

March 16th, 2016

Two medications, lapatinib and trastuzumab (commonly known as Tykerb and Herceptin), can dramatically shrink and eliminate some breast cancers in just 11 days if they are used together, UK doctors have shown.

The drugs were tested on a small trial of 257 women with HER2 subtype of breast cancer to see if it their tumours (sized between 1 and 3cm) would shrink before surgery.

Herceptin works on the surface of cancerous cells while Tykerb is able to penetrate inside the cell to disable HER2.

In less than two weeks of treatment, the cancer disappeared entirely in 11 per cent of cases, and in a further 17 per cent they had shrunk significantly to be smaller than 5mm.

The findings could mean that some of the 15 per cent of breast cancer patients with the HER2 receptive subtype of the disease may no longer need chemotherapy post-surgery,

While the latest trial is being heralded as a major success, it’s worth pointing out that the new combination therapy didn’t work for everyone; the majority of women in the group still had breast cancer tumours that were the same size as they were when the trial began.

The researchers say the findings are a stepping stone towards personalised cancer care while acknowledging that more work and longer-term study is needed to verify the results.

While Tykerb and Herceptin are both available in Australia, people should speak with their doctor to find out whether either treatment is appropriate for their type of breast cancer.