Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Shorter Drug Treatment OK for Many Breast Cancer Patients

It reduces the chances of harmful side effects

Doctor and woman reading digital tablet
Breast cancer patients who receive Herceptin can get by with six months of the drug instead of the usual 12.
Getty Images

Many women with a common and aggressive form of breast cancer that is treated with Herceptin can get by with six months of the drug instead of the usual 12, greatly reducing the risk of heart damage it sometimes can cause, a study suggests.

It's good news, but it comes nearly two decades after the drug first went on the market, and many patients have suffered that side effect.

member card

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

The study was done in the United Kingdom and funded by U.K. government grants. Results were released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and will be presented at the group's meeting next month.

Herceptin transformed the care of a dreaded disease when it was approved in 1998 for women with advanced breast cancers whose growth is aided by a faulty HER2 gene, as 15 percent to 20 percent of cases are. It was later approved for treatment of those cancers in earlier stages, too, based on studies that had tested it in patients for 12 months. That guess, that the drug should be taken for a year, became the standard of care.

But the drug can hurt the heart's ability to pump. That often eases if treatment is stopped, but the damage can be permanent and lead to heart failure.

"There's no reason to not immediately change practice. The findings are persuasive," said Richard Schilsky, M.D., chief medical officer for the oncology society. Most of Herceptin's cancer-fighting benefit seems to come in the early months of use, he said.

membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.