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University of Iowa News Release

Release: April 29, 2005

Study Shows Medication Reduces Recurrence Of Breast Tumors 

Researchers at the University of Iowa say that recently released results from two major studies show women with a particular kind of breast cancer can dramatically reduce their risk of a recurrence of the disease by taking a medication called Herceptin.

The news brought an emotional response from one participant, Jan Supple of Cascade, Iowa. "My husband and I both cried. We were just so grateful that I was able to take part in the research and that I was fortunate enough to receive the medication," she said.

The study involved women with early stage breast cancer that was determined to be HER-2 positive. HER-2 is a protein found on the surface of cancer cells. If breast cancer cells over-express, or make too much HER-2, the tumors tend to grow faster and are more likely to re-develop after treatment.

Herceptin, or trastuzumab, slows or stops the growth of cells that express HER-2. The researchers gave Herceptin to women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. They found that recurrence of cancer was 52 percent less in women who received the combination of chemotherapy and Herceptin compared to the participants who only received chemotherapy.

"These are very exciting results. They confirm that we now have a very powerful, targeted treatment that can prevent the recurrence of cancer cells that over-express HER-2," said Neal Wilkinson, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and the principal investigator at the UI.

More than 3,300 women nationwide participated in the trials that were a nationwide collaboration including the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. Twenty-six of these women enrolled in the research at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

About 20 to 30 percent of breast cancers over-express HER-2. Breast cancer specialists say women diagnosed with breast cancer should ask their physicians if their cancers cells are HER-2 positive. If their breast cancer is HER-2 positive, they should then ask if they are candidates for receiving Herceptin when they receive chemotherapy.

"This represents a major advance that would not have happened without the courage of the women who enrolled in these important studies," said Mark Karwal, M.D., assistant professor (clinical) of internal medicine and co-principal investigator at the UI. "We owe them a major debt of gratitude."

An estimated 211,240 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in 2005. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American women. More than 40,000 women in the United States will die from breast this year, accounting for 15 percent of all cancer-related deaths in women in the nation.

Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is Iowa's only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers are recognized as the leaders in developing new approaches to cancer prevention and cancer care, conducting leading edge research and educating the public about cancer.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Marketing and Communications, University of Iowa Health Care, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room E110 GH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Moore, 319-356-3945,