Protein linked to breast cancer examined It may help tumors resist chemotherapy

June 30, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SAN ANTONIO -- In the battle against breast cancer, doctors over the years have focused on one particular substance within the tumor cell carrying the descriptive, if not grimly ironic, name of HER2.

Interest in HER2 -- its complete name is HER2neu -- has risen and waned over time as researchers first speculated that excess amounts in tumor cells could predict how aggressively a tumor ** would behave but then mostly discounted that notion.

Now researchers are taking a second look at HER2 after recent studies suggesting that, rather than predicting aggressiveness, it may play a role in determining whether the tumor is resistant to chemotherapy.

A large-scale trial has begun to learn whether a new drug aimed at blocking HER2 will give women with breast cancer somewhat better odds of beating the disease.

"The trial is to see if adding the [drug] to what we would call standard-line therapy for metastatic breast cancer will enhance the efficacy of the chemotherapy," said Dr. Richard Elledge, who is heading the local arm of the international study.

HER2 is a protein that normally helps control growth in cells, binding with another substance known as growth factor. Researchers say between 20 percent and 40 percent of breast cancers have too much HER2.

Some of the earliest research characterizing HER2 was done at the University of Texas Health Science Center. "It had been linked initially to perhaps a more aggressive tumor, but that was fairly controversial," said Elledge, an assistant professor of medicine at the school. "But what has started to come to light is that it may not necessarily be that the tumor is more aggressive, but may be linked to a differential response to chemotherapies."

The new study will examine whether a HER2-blocking monoclonal antibody can make conventional treatment more likely to help women with too much HER2.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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