A new drug for the treatment of advanced breast cancer was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last Friday.
FDA officials describe the drug, Herceptin, as “a new biologic approach for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, or cancer that has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes under the arm.”
Herceptin is the first monoclonal antibody approved for use in breast cancer treatment. Monoclonal antibodies join with one specific protein. In the case of breast cancer tumors, this protein is a receptor called HER2. HER2 is found in excess amounts in 30% of breast cancer tumors. Cell growth is regulated with the aid of HER2. HER2-positive tumors stimulate more growth than HER2-negative tumors. However, in the presence of Herceptin, malignant cell growth is halted.
Before treatment with Herceptin, it is critical that women with HER2-expressing breast cancer tumors be identified. Failure to correctly identify the HER2 factor before treatment may lead to possible life-threatening side effects.
As Herceptin joins other drugs in the treatment of breast cancer, optimism is evident among health care professionals.
“We now have a new weapon in our fight against breast cancer” said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala. “For certain women with advanced disease, this new product can mean new hope.”