New Zealand breast cancer patients taking Herceptin could find out this week if it is possible to cut their treatment time in half and still get the same results.
The Government will also be eagerly awaiting the outcome given the cancer treatment drug previously caused an uproar over its hefty price tag.
A French medical team will present their results at a meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Austria this week.
The study is expected to reveal whether Herceptin is just as effective if used for six months as it is for the standard 12 months of treatment.
If proved correct, women could effectively receive the same life-saving results with fewer side effects, which include an increased risk of serious heart problems in patients taking the drug.
Dr Anna Bashford, oncologist and medical adviser to The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation, said the highly anticipated results are a hot topic among medical professionals.
"Until now, nobody has known the right duration of Herceptin.
However, she said, there were more results to come: "I think we do have to wait and see."
Another study comparing one-year against two-year treatment times could also potentially cause a stir at the oncology event in Austria.
If research revealed a two-year treatment time was more effective there could be an argument for doubling treatment.
However, Bashford said oncologists are sceptical of this outcome because the trial results have been slow to come to light.
Researchers would be telling the world if the results in fact showed a significant increase in the drug's effectiveness over a two-year period, she said.
The cancer drug became a hot election issue in 2008 after government drug-buying agency Pharmac decided to fund only nine weeks of treatment.
Pharmac's decision was based on a small nine-week study in Finland that showed the shorter prescription of Herceptin - given with chemotherapy - resulted in no heart failure side effects.
Pharmac also argued the estimated annual cost of $20- $25 million was deemed excessive as the country's entire cancer drug budget was then $35-$40m.
Following nationwide protests National promised to fund 12 months of Herceptin if voted into power.
National's election promise was fulfilled in 2008, when the Government quashed Pharmac's earlier funding decision.
Herceptin is a drug for the 20 per cent of breast cancer patients who suffer from early stage aggressive HER-2 breast cancer.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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