A new research trial carried out at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with the University of Warwick has showed that short-term treatment using Herceptin drug can be useful in treating patients with HER2 positive early-stage breast cancer.

When compared with current norm of 12 months of use of Herceptin, the Persephone trial found that taking the therapy for six months was as effective in preventing relapse and death, while also minimising side effects and costs.

Herceptin is a target therapy, which works by attaching to the HER2 receptors and inhibiting cancer cells from growing and dividing. Based on prior clinical research, a 12 month treatment with the drug became the standard.

Sponsored by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) with translational research funded by Cancer Research UK, the latest trial recruited more than 4,000 women who continued chemotherapy.

Results revealed that 89.4% of participants taking six months treatment were free of disease after four years, compared to 89.8% of subjects taking therapy for 12 months.

“The exciting early key findings from this study show that six months of Herceptin might be as effective as 12 months.”

Furthermore, 4% of patients in the six month arm discontinued the drug early due to heart problems, compared with 8% in the 12 month group.

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Cancer Research UK chief clinician Charles Swanton said: “Targeted therapies, while effective, come at a huge health economic cost to the NHS as well as potentially causing side effects such as heart problems.

“Despite years of research, we haven’t been able to establish the optimal duration of Herceptin treatment, either to delay cancer coming back or to cure patients with early HER2+ breast cancer following surgery.

“The exciting early key findings from this study show that six months of Herceptin might be as effective as 12 months, and it may also be safer and with fewer side effects.”

The researchers are planning to further analyse tumour and blood samples to determine patients who can stop Herceptin at six months and those needing extended therapy.