HER2 Breast Cancer and the Heart


Wash. DC (Ivanhoe Newswire) – HER2 positive cancers are aggressive, but the good news is many can be treated with targeted therapies. The bad news, those drugs can hurt the heart. Now, researchers have found a way to successfully treat HER2 positive cancer and protect patients from heart failure.

Sixty-five-year old Nanci Young loves puzzles. Like her hobby, her journey to good health has also required patience and trial and error. Young is a four-time breast cancer survivor. She’s been living with HER2 metastatic breast cancer since 2002.

“I say that proudly, I do. Because I know so many women who are not here. And for some reason, I am,” said Young.

Doctors put her on Herceptin. It knocked her cancer into remission. But then Young showed signs of heart failure and had to quit the cancer drug.

Young said, “I knew the cancer was going to come back. I knew it.”

And it did. Ana Barac, MD, PhD, Cardio Oncologist at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute is a cardiologist who specializes in the treatment of cancer patients. She launched the SafeHeart trial, enrolling women with abnormal cardiac function and HER2 positive cancer.

(Read Full Interview)

Dr. Barac asked, “Can we prevent further worsening of heart function and at the same time complete treatment for breast cancer?”

Dr. Barac treated the patients with beta blockers and ace inhibitors, recommended drugs for heart failure and also had them stay on targeted therapies. Almost all were able to continue cancer treatment safely including Young.

Young said, “We can’t let women die because they can’t take Herceptin. We gotta do better for them.”

Young remains cancer-free but will have to stay on targeted therapies for the rest of her life. Dr. Barac says all of the women in the SafeHeart trial with the exception of three were able to remain on their cancer therapies safely during the trial.

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

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REPORT:       MB #4610

BACKGROUND: The HER2 gene makes HER2 proteins. HER2 proteins are receptors on breast cells. Normally, HER2 receptors help control how a healthy breast cell grows, divides, and repairs itself, but in about 25 percent of breast cancers, the HER2 gene doesn’t work correctly and makes too many copies of itself. All these extra HER2 genes tell breast cells to make too many HER2 receptors (HER2 protein overexpression). This makes breast cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. Breast cancers with HER2 gene amplification or HER2 protein overexpression are called HER2-positive in the pathology report. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to grow faster and are more likely to spread and come back compared to HER2-negative breast cancers.

(Source: https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/diagnosis/her2)

HEART HEALTH: Herceptin is a targeted therapy medicine used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer. Heart muscle damage and heart failure are potentially serious side effects of Herceptin. A small study has found that after three months of Herceptin treatment, nearly 58 percent of women had some loss of heart function. The study used heart ultrasounds (echocardiograms) to evaluate the women’s heart health. The results suggest that heart problems caused by Herceptin are more common and may happen earlier than many doctors think. The results also suggest that monitoring for possible heart problems should be done regularly from the start of Herceptin treatment.

(Source: https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/20111208b)

NEW RESEARCH: Ana Barac, MD, PhD, Cardio Oncologist at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute worked on the Safe Heart trial, designed to test the hypothesis that it may be safe to either start or continue HER2 targeted therapies in patients who do not have normal heart function. Dr. Barac talked about her findings and said, “I think it points to the importance of collaborative care. I think that we had a privilege of chairing a group within the American College of Cardiology that is really working on advancing the awareness and training, education and clinical trials in what we call cardio oncology. Its cardiovascular care of oncology patients. And I think for that group it really emphasizing that we have a collaborative approach to treatment of patients.”

(Source: Ana Barac, MD, PhD)


So Young Pak, MedStar PR



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 mthomas@ivanhoe.com

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Ana Barac, MD, PhD, Cardio Oncologist

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