Herceptin-Avastin Combo Shows Promise

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A study may be important to women who are being treated for HER2-positive, advanced breast cancer. More than half of the women with HER2-positive, advanced breast cancer who received two targeted therapies—Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) and Avastin (chemical name: bevacizumab)—responded to the combination of these two medicines. This is important because HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive and harder to treat.

Targeted cancer therapies are newer types of cancer treatments that target specific characteristics of cancer cells. Most targeted therapies are antibodies that work like the antibodies made by our immune system. So targeted therapies are also called immune targeted therapies.

Herceptin is the best known targeted therapy for breast cancer. Herceptin only works against breast cancers that have extra HER2 genes and make too many HER2 protein receptors. Herceptin does have a number of potentially serious side effects.

Avastin is also a targeted therapy. Avastin targets the new blood vessels that feed cancer cells. Avastin has been approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat certain types of advanced cancers of the lung, colon and rectum. Avastin also has been studied in combination with chemotherapies such as Taxol (chemical name: paclitaxel) and Xeloda (chemical name: capecitabine) for treating breast cancer. Like Herceptin, Avastin has a number of potentially serious side effects.

It's important to note that the study is a Phase II study. Phase II studies usually look at whether or not a treatment approach works. Before any treatment is accepted, a Phase III study is done. Phase III research tries to determine whether a new treatment approach is better than standard approaches.

This means that more research is needed before Herceptin and Avastin in combination are routinely offered as a treatment option for HER2-positive, advanced breast cancer. Right now, Avastin is not approved in the United States to treat breast cancer. Avastin is available to women with advanced breast cancer in clinical trials.

Update: In February 2008, the FDA approved the use of Avastin in combination with paclitaxel to treat women diagnosed with HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer. The approval indicated that women who are to be treated with the Avastin-paclitaxel combination must not have received any other chemotherapy medicines to treat metastatic breast cancer. The medicine paclitaxel is sold commercially as Taxol and Abraxane.

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