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Gradishar Sheds Light on Treatment Trends in Breast Cancer

Angelica Welch
Published: Tuesday, Aug 22, 2017

William J. Gradishar MD
William J. Gradishar MD
The field of breast cancer has seen momentous progress over the last decade, particularly with novel agents for patients with HER2-positive disease.

In an interview with OncLive, William J. Gradishar, MD, interim chief of hematology and oncology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, discussed the latest developments in the HER2-positive setting, as well as biomarker development and the potential for immunotherapy in breast cancer.

OncLive: With the novel agents that have emerged in the HER2-positive setting, has an optimal sequence been determined?

Gradishar: HER2-positive cancer has been an area that has evolved over the last decade with the introduction of several new agents. They apply to patients both in early-stage and late-stage settings, as well as preoperatively. One of the challenges we have, particularly in patients with metastatic disease is how to optimally use these drugs, extend the time that patients have, and to really convey benefit to them. 

So, one of the things that we base our decision-making on, certainly in metastatic disease, is the results of clinical trials. And what the clinical trials have demonstrated is that we should be using pertuzumab (Perjeta) and trastuzumab (Herceptin) followed by T-DM1 for most patients. And once we get past that point, there are a variety of options, including drugs that are a little bit dated at this point, like lapatinib (Tykerb), as well as combinations of trastuzumab and other chemotherapy agents. There are other, [newer] drugs…including neratinib (Nerlynx) [that have emerged].

With respect to early-stage disease, one of the things that we now confront is how to integrate both pertuzumab and neratinib into the adjuvant setting. Data from the APHINITY trial showed that there was a very modest incremental improvement when you combine pertuzumab with trastuzumab [in the adjuvant setting]—[it] probably will not be for every single patient, but for those with high risk. For those who have a very high risk—positive nodes—then we may consider neratinib afterwards. But, we have to take into account the side-effect profile of these drugs. We are really talking about duration of therapy that goes into years now. 

Where are we at with the use of trastuzumab across the various treatment lines?

Certainly, in the preoperative setting we use chemotherapy with trastuzumab, now often with pertuzumab—so a combination that has dual anti-HER2 targeting along with standard chemotherapy. In the adjuvant setting, we again use trastuzumab with pertuzumab, often with chemotherapy. And in the metastatic disease setting, it’s any of a variety of agents, but the theme here is that we are starting to use dual HER2-targeting as a first step in many of these settings—preoperatively, postoperatively, as well as early in the sequence for patients with metastatic disease. 

Have we seen any progress with immune checkpoint inhibitors in breast cancer?

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are very exciting. They have been around now for a few years, and where they have gained the most traction has been in settings other than breast cancer—lung cancer, melanoma. 

We are now starting to see that there are signals in smaller trials in breast cancer. We have heard data now with monotherapy as well as combinations with chemotherapy where checkpoint inhibitors are used. And we see activity, and in some cases, in select patients you can have prolonged benefit from a checkpoint inhibitor. 

We are also starting to see the introduction of these drugs into both the preoperative setting, as well as the adjuvant setting. But, as a bottom line, if you were to ask me today what checkpoint inhibitor we use in breast cancer, there isn’t one. 

Where are we with biomarker development in breast cancer?

Biomarkers are something that we always try to utilize, if possible, for selecting treatments for a given patient. So, if you think about the biomarkers that we've traditional had available, we have had the hormone receptors and HER2, and that allows us to determine whether or not a patient is a candidate for endocrine therapy or HER2-based therapy. 


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Cancer Summaries and Commentaries™: Update from Chicago: Advances in the Treatment of Breast CancerJul 31, 20181.0
Community Practice Connections™: Medical Crossfire®: Translating Lessons Learned with PARP Inhibition to the Treatment of Breast Cancer—Expert Exchanges on Novel Strategies to Personalize CareAug 29, 20181.5
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