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Breast Cancer Combination Therapy Yields ‘Staggering’ Results

A two-drug combination therapy given to breast cancer patients before surgery has yielded “staggering” results.

When given to breast cancer patients before surgery, the drug combination of lapatinib and trastuzumab (Herceptin) has been found to shrink - and in some women - potentially destroy breast tumours.

The preliminary results from the “unprecedented” breast cancer trial stunned doctors who were amazed to see tumours completely eradicated just 11 days following treatment.

The ‘EPHOS B’ trial, which was led by researchers in London and Manchester and funded by Cancer Research UK, produced “ground-breaking” findings which could offer hope to thousands of patients.

Around one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime and around 10,000 British women develop ‘HER2 positive’ breast cancers each year as a result of a faulty gene which leads to tumour cells having too many key proteins, known as HER2 receptors, driving cell growth.

Following surgery for breast cancer, many patients are given drugs such as Herceptin alongside chemotherapy to block HER2 receptors and help prevent tumours from returning. HER2 positive breast cancer is more likely to come back after treatment than some other types of breast cancer.

The aim of the EPHOS B trial, which involved 257 patients who had been diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer and were awaiting surgery, was to discover what would happen if such drugs were given before surgery.

The trial was run in two parts. The first involved 130 women who were assigned to three groups. One group received Herceptin, while another was given lapatinib. Both groups received the drugs for 11 days following diagnosis and pre-surgery. A third control group were given no drugs at all.

The second part of the trial involved 127 women who were either assigned either to a control group, a Herceptin-only group, or a group that were given a combination of Herceptin and lapatinib.

Out of the 66 women who received the combination treatment, seven saw their tumours disappear entirely. A further 11 patients saw their tumours shrink significantly, with only microscopic traces of the disease left following treatment.

Nigel Bundred, a professor at the University of Manchester, who led the study, said: “For solid tumours to disappear in 11 days is unheard of. These are mind-boggling results.”

“These results are so staggering that I suspect that we will have to run another trial to prove that they are generalisable.”

These results mean many women may be spared the punishing ordeal of chemotherapy following surgery. It also means treatment can be specially tailored to individual patients.

Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in Britain with more than 50,000 women diagnosed with the disease each year. Although more women are surviving breast cancer due to better awareness and improvements in screening and treatment, we are still seeing errors that are entirely preventable.

The most common mistakes involve GPs failing to refer patients for investigation, or breast surgeons performing an examination but failing to conduct the ‘triple test’ whereby a clinical assessment, biopsy and radiological investigation - either by mammogram or ultrasound scan - are carried out.

Other common errors occur as a result of misinterpreting scans and pathology samples. Breast cancer is a devastating disease and mistakes made in delaying or misdiagnosing the condition can obviously be extremely serious.

Paul Sankey is a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

Slater and Gordon help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of cancer due to medical negligence.

For a free consultation call our medical negligence solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.

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