Medical Moment: Enhertu stops the spread of metastatic breast cancer

Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 8:04 PM EST
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One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

It’s the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for American women. But now, after years of clinical trials, the FDA is approving a new treatment for women with metastatic breast cancer.

264,000 women will get a breast cancer diagnosis this year. 50 to 60 percent will have a type of cancer called HER2-low. That means the tumors have low levels of the HER2 protein on the surface of the cancer cell.

Now, the FDA has approved a treatment called Enhertu for metastatic HER2-low breast cancers that cannot be surgically removed.

“This actually attaches a little bit of chemotherapy to it and makes it superior to a lot of other things we’ve had before,” says Dr. Adam Brufsky, medical oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer.

For women whose breast cancer had not spread, the standard treatment was chemotherapy. But for metastatic HER2-low cancer, there were few additional options until clinical trials showed Enhertu kept the cancer at bay better than other treatments.

“A therapy that basically, at least doubles the amount of time that women can live with their disease without the cancer progressing,” Brufsky said.

Enhertu is delivered as an IV drip once every three weeks.

“It improves our overall survival, even if they’ve had multiple other therapies in the past,” Brufsky said. “And I think it’s something really that 75 to 80 percent of our women with metastatic breast cancer can now get.”

Doctors say patients with other types of cancer might also benefit from this treatment, including patients with lung, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer.



BACKGROUND: Breast cancer is the most commonly detected cancer in women in America, besides skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates i287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer, 51,400 new cases of ductal carcinoma in stiu, and 43,250 deaths this year. Breast cancer is most common in middle aged women. The average chances of a women developing breast cancer in her lifetime is thirteen percent. Breast cancer death rates have decreased in older women by one percent between 2013 to 2018 due to earlier screenings and newly developed treatment options.


DIAGNOSING: Symptoms of breast cancer include swelling in the breasts, skin dimpling, breast pain, nipple retraction, nipple discharge, and swollen lymph nodes near the collar bone. Diagnosis of breast cancer will include a grade. The cells are given a grade when they are checked in the lab and are determined by how much the cancer cells looks compared to normal cells. This grade is assigned to determine which treatment options are the best fit and to help declare possible outcomes. Treatments for breast cancer include surgery and radiation. Systemic treatments for breast cancer include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently approved an Enhertu IV infusion for people diagnosed with unresectable or metastatic HER2-low breast cancer. This new approval is the first approved targeted therapy for patients with HER2-low breast cancer, a new subtype of HER2-negative. This new targeted therapy can double the amount of expected time for the patient and stops the cancer from progression. A growing number of drugs are being developed that are targeting the HER2 protein.


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