Side Effects: The shorter is better rule may also apply to one type of breast cancer therapy

The new rule in antibiotic therapy is the shorter the duration the better: “Every randomized clinical trial that has ever compared short-course therapy with longer-course therapy … has found that shorter-course therapies are just as effective.” And crucially, shorter courses reduce your risk of adverse side effects such as life-threatening allergic reactions, super infections, nausea and rash.

It turns out that this very same idea may apply with equal force to cancer therapy. NPR reports that a new study out of Cambridge University found women who were diagnosed with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer did just as well with 6 months of treatment with the drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) as did women who received a 12-month course of this treatment. Specifically, survival was nearly identical after five years. And women with the shorter treatment also had fewer side-effects such as heart damage, fatigue and pain.

So why on earth would we be doubling up on treatment length when it doesn’t help and it exposes us to serious health risks and greater costs? NPR:

This kind of question — of whether the standard, established dose could be reduced to good effect — is one that drug manufacturers don’t go out of their way to answer once a drug is on the market, because the result could reduce the amount of drugs they sell.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology told NPR they found the Cambridge study “quite compelling” and “it is likely that it will signal a shift” in how doctors prescribe this drug to their early-stage breast cancer patients.

Here’s a brief video and accompanying article that nicely explain Herceptin therapy and HER2-breast cancer. Notice at the end of the video the long list of side effects that the drug therapy exposes you to. It’s precisely this that the ‘shorter is better’ mantra is trying to avoid.


How Herceptin Works: the Mechanism of Action from on Vimeo.

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