Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer, affecting roughly 1 in 8 women. Although 97% of those women survive, conventional treatment can last months. But a new experimental procedure shaves that down to just – get this – 11 days.
How It Works
The treatment, which UK scientists presented at this year’s European Breast Cancer Conference, relies on two drugs – Herceptin and Lapatinib. These drugs target a protein, called HER2, that fuels the growth of many breast cancer types – including a few very aggressive ones.
In their initial study, researchers gave Herceptin and Lapatinib to 257 women with HER2-fueled breast cancer types. In less than two weeks, the treatment wiped out the cancer in 11% of patients. In 17%, researchers observed significant tumor shrinkage. Patients who noticed improvements included women with Stage 2 breast cancer, whose tumors had spread to their lymph nodes.
The drugs did not produce nearly as impressive results when patients took just one or the other.
“This has groundbreaking potential,” said Professor Nigel Bundred, who announced the results. “This offers the opportunity to tailor treatment for each individual woman.”
Of course, this treatment could also reduce the need for chemotherapy, the side effects of which can be traumatic on their own.
Patients often report fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, blood disorders, organ damage and memory loss. In the long term, chemotherapy can even cause permanent heart, liver, kidney and reproductive damage.
Mind you, Herceptin and Lapatinib are not totally side effect-free. Both can cause nausea, vomiting, rashes and fatigue. However, they do not cause organ damage and, as the UK study demonstrates, they do not need to be taken for months on end.
A Few Small Snags
Currently, Herceptin is only available in tandem with chemotherapy drugs. It’s also very expensive, at roughly $54,000 for a year’s supply. A year of Lapatinib treatment, on the other hand, costs more than $75,000 in the United States. Combined, that works out to roughly triple the average American’s income.
Those figures are very reflective of the greed that exists in the American pharmaceutical industry. Remember, foreign generic drug manufacturers replicate and sell high-priced pills at a mere fraction of the U.S. cost. It is possible – just not in our current money-hungry medical system.
You can take that as a positive or negative. Maybe this new UK study will spark a push for cheaper generic variants of Herceptin and Lapatinib.