Breast cancer treatment: Drug pertuzumab licensed

Breast cancer scan Image copyright Science Photo Library

Thousands of women with early but aggressive breast cancer could benefit from a drug that has been approved by UK regulators, say experts.

Pertuzumab (Perjeta) fights HER2-positive breast cancer and its new licence means it can be used before surgery to shrink and control tumours.

It was already licensed for advanced breast cancer.

According to manufacturer Roche, the drug could help more than 1,800 patients a year in the UK.

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

These tumours have a higher-than-normal level of a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 and tend to grow more quickly than other breast cancers.

Therapies such as pertuzumab can target this receptor and interrupt signals that tell the cancer to grow.

The medicine has not been recommended for widespread use on the NHS by the watchdog NICE or the Scottish Medicines Consortium, but patients in England with advanced breast cancer can obtain it through the government's Cancer Drugs Fund.

Samia al Qadhi of Breast Cancer Care, said: "Making pertuzumab accessible to patients who need it must be a priority. It is essential patients get the best care possible from day one."

When used with trastuzumab (Herceptin) and chemotherapy, pertuzumab can keep people cancer-free for longer, as well as reducing the chance of the cancer spreading.

And because the drug can shrink tumours, she said, some women would be spared mastectomy surgery.

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