Taking Herceptin for six months could be just as effective as taking it for 12 months in preventing relapse and death, as well as reducing side effects, among women in the early stages of HER2-positive breast cancer, new research suggests.
The PERSEPHONE trial was a £2.6m (~€3m) study conducted by the University of Warwick, UK, and involved 4,000 women. It compared a six-month course of treatment of Herceptin with the current standard of 12 months for women with early HER2-positive breast cancer.
It was found that 89.4% of patients taking the six-month treatment were free of disease after a period of four years compared with 89.8% of patients taking treatment for 12 months.
Avoiding longer treatment
Professor Janet Dunn, deputy director of the Warwick Clinical Trials Unit at Warwick Medical School, said: “This is a very exciting result and we are delighted that Warwick Clinical Trials at Warwick Medical School was involved.
“There is still further research to be done; however, there is now the possibility that women will now avoid longer treatment and the subsequent unnecessary side effects without losing any benefit. It is also good news for the NHS as a shorter duration of medication should help save vital funds.”
Herceptin has been a major breakthrough, prolonging and saving the lives of women with breast cancers that carry the HER2 receptor on the surface of their cancer cells.
Around 15 out of every 100 women with early breast cancers have the HER2-positive disease.
How Herceptin works
Herceptin is a targeted therapy that works by attaching to the HER2 receptors and preventing the cancer cells from growing and dividing. It has rapidly become the standard of care and, based on clinical research, a 12-month treatment course was adopted.
Lead author of the study Professor Helena Earl, of the University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, said: “We are confident that this will mark the first steps towards a reduction of Herceptin treatment to six months in many women with HER2-positive breast cancer.
“However, any proposed reduction in effective cancer treatment will always be complex and very challenging, and women currently taking the medication should not change their treatment without seeking advice from their doctor.”
She added: “We are poised to do important translational research analysing blood and tissue samples collected within the trial to look for biomarkers to identify subgroups of different risk where shorter/longer durations might be tailored.”
Maggie Wilcox, president of Independent Cancer Patients Voice (ICPV), the patient lead for the PERSEPHONE trial, concluded: “I am delighted to have been part of this landmark trial which is an important step to reduce the length of treatment whilst not changing effectiveness.
“Most trials add novel treatments to standard practice, whilst this has set out to reduce duration of Herceptin. The collection of the patient-reported experiences throughout the trial will greatly inform future practice and benefit patients. ICPV is working with the PERSEPHONE team to help disseminate these exciting results.”
Press release: University of Warwick