KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Researchers: Breast Cancer Prevention And Treatment Protocols Not Always Clear

The New York Times writes about the frequent inaccuracy of a test to detect certain proteins in breast tumors, which determines whether the patient will get Herceptin, a potent breast cancer treatment. "Drugs aimed at disabling proteins that spur cancer are, many oncologists say, the future of cancer therapies. ... But these so-called targeted therapies are only as good as tests to find their protein targets. And while most patients do not yet know it, those tests can be surprisingly unreliable." And "the problem continues to grow."

The drug costs "$42,000 a year wholesale" and "causes flulike symptoms and also has a rare, serious side effect, severe heart damage that can even be fatal"  (Kolata, 4/19).

Meanwhile, a comparative-effectiveness study of "two popular drugs that help to prevent breast cancer suggests the older one is significantly more effective over time," The Wall Street Journal reports. "But both tamoxifen and Eli Lilly & Co.'s newer Evista cut high-risk women's risk of developing breast cancer, according to results presented Monday at a meeting here of the American Association for Cancer Research. Tamoxifen, while more effective, also brought increased risk of side effects. The federally funded study followed 19,490 women for almost seven years during and after their treatment with tamoxifen, an off-patent drug used to treat cancer, and Evista, which was developed as an osteoporosis drug and is generically known as raloxifene" (Wang, 4/20).

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