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Combined cancer drugs ’reduce tumours in 11 days’, UK doctors find

Researchers discovered that combining the drugs Tyverb (lapatinib) and Herceptin (trastuzumab) could lead to tumours shrinking significantly or even disappearing.

Some patients with HER2 positive breast cancer may be spared chemotherapy altogether if they are given the drugs straight after diagnosis.

In a clinical trial, some of the women who responded well to the treatment also had cancer that had already spread to their lymph nodes.

Scientists described the discovery as "exciting" as they presented their research at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Amsterdam.

This has groundbreaking potential because it allows us to identify a group of patients who, within 11 days, have had their tumours disappear with anti-HER2 therapy alone and who potentially may not require subsequent chemotherapy.

This offers the opportunity to tailor treatment for each individual woman."


Professor Arnie Purushotham, senior clinical adviser at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said: "These results are very promising if they stand up in the long run and could be the starting step of finding a new way to treat HER2 positive breast cancers.

"This could mean some women can avoid chemotherapy after their surgery - sparing them the side-effects and giving them a better quality of life."

Trial co-leader Professor Judith Bliss, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said it was "unexpected to see quite such dramatic responses to the trastuzumab and lapatinib within 11 days".

Our results are a strong foundation on which to build further trials of combination anti-HER2 therapies prior to surgery - which could reduce the number of women who require subsequent chemotherapy, which is also very effective but can lead to long-term side effects.


At the moment, women usually have their tumour removed during surgery followed by a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapies and targeted drugs such as Herceptin.

Tyverb is not currently approved by the health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) for use on the NHS. It is also not available via the Cancer Drugs Fund.

The UK EPHOS-B trial involved 257 women with newly diagnosed HER2 positive breast cancer.

Around 5,300 to 8,000 women a year are diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer.

By Robert Muriisa.

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