The HER2/neu (HER2) gene is a member of a family of genes which has been implicated in cancer. These four genes, HER1/EGFR, HER2, HER3 and HER4 encode for transmembrane proteins that are involved in the regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation and survival. Amplification of HER2 occurs in 20%-25% of breast cancers and is associated with an aggressive tumor phenotype and poor prognosis. Results from five randomized, phase III clinical trials have recently demonstrated that trastuzumab (Herceptin®) significantly improves disease free survival and overall survival when used in conjunction with chemotherapy for early stage HER2- positive breast cancer. Despite adjuvant trastuzumab, approximately 15% of patients with early stage disease recur, and those with metastatic disease eventually become resistant to therapy. Novel treatment approaches are needed for patients who have either intrinsic or acquired resistance to trastuzumab. This article reviews the role of trastuzumab in managing early and advanced stage HER2-positive disease, the role of lapatinib (Tykerb®) in trastuzumab resistant disease, and the novel agents in development targeting mechanisms of trastuzumab resistance.
Keywords: chemotherapy, Trastuzumab Trials, docetaxel, Disease Free Survival, Cardiotoxicity, Lapatinib
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