Herceptin, wonder drug to ‘not so sure’

Herceptin (trastuzumab) has been the media’s choice in recent days to help all women coping with breast cancer. Following a successful campaign in the national press, on television and in the radio herceptin has now been licensed for use by NICE on women whose levels of the protein HER2 are raised above 3+.

It is now known that Breast Cancer is not one, but many different, types of cancer and HER2-positive disease is just one of these. It is characterised by aggresive growth and a poor prognosis. (https://www.gene.com/patients/disease-education/her2-disease-in-breast-cancer)

Some women with breast cancer produce a naturally occuring protein called epidermal growth factor, when combined with HER2 (which occurs on the surface of a breast cancer cell) and this combination then stimulates the cancer cells to mulitply. Herceptin has been shown to attach itself to the HER2 protein and inhibit epidermal growth factor from attaching to HER2 as well, thus inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.

However, it only works in a small number of cases, and in the few trials that have been undertaken many women have had to stop the treatment early because of toxic side effects. Other side effects such as the heart problems are even more worrying.

So what has led to the grass-roots campaign to get Herceptin prescribed? Apparently it turns out that Roche, the pharmaceutical company that make Herceptin, have been targeting patients and pressure groups, in some cases even offering to pay them if they stand up and demand the drug.

Read more about the NICE recommendations on Herceptin.

Ref: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, Vol 17:3

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