- Treatment limited to the 20-30 percent of patients who express the HER-2/NEU gene
Breast cancer patients in Clay County will soon have access to a new therapy some have described as a "cure" for certain forms of the disease.
Several recently published studies have indicated that Herceptin, a drug manufactured by Genetech and originally used to treat metastatic (spreading) breast cancers, significantly reduces the risk of recurrence when used as an adjuvant (post-surgical) therapy. According to Dr. Monte Shaheen, a board-certified oncologist with Providence Healthcare who treats patients in Brazil and Terre Haute, area breast cancer patients will have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of the treatment in Terre Haute.
"(Providence) recently became a part of the UCLA clinical research network. Clay County breast cancer patients can have access to UCLA trials in Terre Haute," he said. "We will have a bunch of herceptin trials open in a few weeks."
Studies presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in May 2005 demonstrate the drug's remarkable effectiveness in preventing recurrences of certain types of breast cancers. In cases of breast cancer that express the HER-2/NEU gene, the target of Herceptin, the drug prevented recurrence over a three-year period in 90 percent of patients, according to Shaheen.
While the encouraging findings of the studies have prompted some to call post-surgical Herceptin treatments a "cure" for breast cancer, Shaheen pointed out that, because the drug is so specifically targeted, it can only be used in a limited number of cases. Just 20 to 30 percent of breast cancer patients express the HER-2/NEU gene, he said, and are thus eligible for Herceptin treatments.
"Herceptin is a great step forward, but it is not the solution for most patients who struggle with this disease," he said.
Shaheen said insurance companies that routinely provide coverage of Herceptin treatments for metastatic cancers have been hesitant to cover its use as an adjuvant therapy.
"We work case-by-case to get insurance approval to give (Herceptin) as adjuvant therapy, and we are having difficulty with most insurance carriers," he said.
For information regarding upcoming clinical trials of Herceptin in Terre Haute, contact your physician.