OPINION STATEMENT: Treatment of early stage breast cancer requires a multimodality approach in order to eradicate residual cancer and prevent recurrent disease. Targeting the pathways that promote or sustain cancer cell growth and invasion is critical to the effective treatment of breast and other cancers. Overexpression of the family of HER receptors have been associated with a variety of malignancies; the first and best studied is the association of overexpression of the HER2/neu receptor with a more aggressive breast cancer phenotype and poorer survival. A humanized antibody to HER2/neu, trastuzumab, is now FDA approved for the treatment of early stage, HER2/neu overexpressing breast cancer sequenced with chemotherapy including doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and paclitaxel. Additional international and national studies support the significant impact of trastuzumab on both disease free and overall survival in women with this aggressive form of breast cancer. Toxicity includes a low but clear risk of congestive heart failure, and the large phase III trials have helped to determine which patients are at higher risk for this complication. Non-anthracycline containing regimens are an alternative therapy associated with reduced cardiac toxicity. Trastuzumab therapy is now the standard of care for the treatment of early stage, HER2/neu positive breast cancer given in combination with one of several chemotherapy regimens. Ongoing questions include the appropriate duration of trastuzumab treatment as well as the optimal chemotherapy regimen and sequence. The next large phase III adjuvant trial for this subset of breast cancer is an international collaboration designed to evaluate the added or alternative benefit of an oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor targeting HER2/neu as well as the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), lapatinib. Other trials are investigating differences in duration. Studies in the neoadjuvant setting should help to define markers of trastuzumab and lapatinib sensitivity and resistance. Preliminary data combining trastuzumab with the antiangiogenic antibody bevacizumab is encouraging; this combination will be tested in both early stage and late stage disease.
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