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Breast cancer drug licensed for women in early stage of disease

Published 29/09/2015

Perjeta is already licensed for those women whose breast cancer has spread around the body
Perjeta is already licensed for those women whose breast cancer has spread around the body

A breast cancer drug that almost doubles the eradication of tumours and extends survival has been licensed for early stages of the disease.

Perjeta, which is used in women with HER2-positive breast cancer prior to surgery, is already licensed for those whose cancer has spread around the body.

It has now been granted a licence for women in the earliest stages of the disease, when therapies can have their biggest impact.

Perjeta (also known as pertuzumab) has not yet been fully appraised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) for widespread use on the NHS.

It is available privately, while those women with advanced cancer may be able to access it through the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund.

In clinical trials, Perjeta almost doubled the number of women whose tumours were eradicated compared with current treatment.

Additional data showed that patients were 40% more likely to be disease-free after three years.

According to the manufacturer Roche, the medicine has the potential to help more than 1,800 patients in the UK.

About 15% of women with early-stage breast cancer have HER2 positive cancer.

Dr Andrew Wardley, oncologist at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and one of the British doctors involved in the clinical trials, said: "Therapy for breast cancer has the greatest impact in the early stage, where it can prevent the cancer from returning or spreading and eradicate the cancer in some cases."

Perjeta works by targeting the HER2 protein, which is found on the surface of some cancer cells.

Perjeta stops HER2 joining to other HER proteins so the cell does not receive messages telling it to grow.

Perjeta is licensed for use in combination with the current treatment Herceptin (trastuzumab) and chemotherapy.

Samia al Qadhi, chief executive at Breast Cancer Care, said Perjeta has the potential to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths.

She said some women could also be spared "gruelling mastectomy surgery" because the drug has been shown to shrink tumours when used in combination.

"These treatments can cause side effects, which will need to be discussed with patients," she added.

"However, making pertuzumab accessible to patients who need it must be a priority. It is essential patients get the best care possible from day one."

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