Breast Cancer: Two New Drugs for HER2


BALTIMORE, Md. (Ivanhoe Newswire)—HER2 positive breast cancer is an aggressive form of cancer, accounting for about 20 percent of all breast cancer cases. Now, doctors say two separate newly FDA- approved treatments are available to patients with HER2 positive cancer that has spread.

For Mini Jack Russell, Jason, and his mom, Joyce Gruss, happiness is a rowdy game of canine cannonball. Joyce’s energy comes and goes. She’s battling an aggressive form of breast cancer. It’s back for the second time and has spread to her liver.

“What was happening was my liver was so swelled. It was like, you could feel it through the rib cage,” Joyce told Ivanhoe.

Doctors diagnosed Joyce with metastatic HER2 positive cancer, meaning she had a high level of a growth protein on her breast cancer cells.

“But then there have been a number of drugs that have come along that target this HER2 protein,” David Riseberg, MD, a medical oncologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, explained.

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One drug, Tukysa, was approved in April 2020. Another drug, Enhertu, had been approved just three months earlier. Right now, Enhertu is keeping Joyce’s cancer from progressing.

Dr. Riseberg noted, “The more tools in our toolbox, the more things we have to offer our patients.”

When Joyce started treatment for the recurrence in 2018, Dr. Riseberg wasn’t sure she had much time.

Joyce shared, “He was brutally honest. He said, ‘You probably have two or three years to live’. He told me the other day, ‘I’m so glad I was wrong’. So, I said, ‘I am too’. You know, you literally do live one day at a time. “

More time with the people and the pup she loves.

Joyce was the first person in her family to have breast cancer, but her 80-year-old mother was recently diagnosed with the same form of the disease. Joyce says she is glad she is here to support her mom through treatment.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: HER2-positive breast cancer tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. It’s a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells.

About 1 in 5 breast cancers have extra copies of the gene that makes the HER2 protein. This cancer is known to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. Experts recommend that every invasive breast cancer be tested for the presence of HER2 because the results impact treatment recommendations and decisions. HER2 testing is not done routinely for ductal carcinoma in situ, except as part of a clinical trial. And, when breast cancer recurs or spreads, the cells should be retested for HER2 as well as for hormone receptor status because these can change from the original diagnosis.


SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS: The symptoms of HER2-positive breast cancer are much like the symptoms of other breast malignancies. Most individuals with this form of cancer first notice a hard lump in a breast. Other signs may include unusual breast swelling or tenderness; discomfort in a breast or nipple; redness or a thickening in a breast or nipple; unusual nipple discharge; or breast skin that appears irritated or dimpled. In cases where potential signs of breast cancer are present, a mammogram, breast ultrasound or other form of imaging may be conducted to search for additional signs of malignancy and determine if a breast biopsy is necessary. During a biopsy, a small amount of tissue is taken from an affected breast and analyzed in a clinical lab to check for cancerous cells.


A MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH: Researchers from Montreal Clinical Research Institute have made a groundbreaking discovery in advancing treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer. The team analyzed a phenomenon in solid tumors called hypoxia. Hypoxia is generated by a lack of oxygen that is intensified by the rapid growth of the tumor. This results in the production of metastases, a weakened immune system, and resistance to treatment. The team was able to identify a protein called AXL – known to be vital in hypoxia taking place. They utilized new techniques to block AXL from working in the tumor, and in doing so, observed the blood vessels recover, the tumors’ immune environment starts to replenish, and the ability of the tumor to metastasize in other organs reduced. Marie-Anne Goyette, the first author of the study, said: “It’s as if we had succeeded, on the one hand, in breaking down the protective walls of the tumor against the immune system, thus making it more vulnerable to immunological treatments, and, on the other hand, in preventing the tumor from moving elsewhere.”






If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for David Riseberg, MD, Medical Oncologist

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