(HealthDay News) — Adding a year of trastuzumab (Herceptin) to standard chemotherapy improves overall survival by 37 percent and raises 10-year overall survival rates from 75 to 84 percent, according to research published online Oct. 20 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Edith Perez, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and colleagues followed 4,046 women with breast cancer. Half received chemotherapy, and the other half received chemotherapy plus one year of treatment with trastuzumab. The follow-up was for a median of 8.4 years. The researchers found that adding trastuzumab improved overall survival by 37 percent. The addition of trastuzumab also boosted disease-free survival by 40 percent.

The benefit to adding trastuzumab was seen in both younger and older patients. The drug also provided a benefit whether or not cancers were estrogen receptor-positive or not, and whether or not cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. Heart-related deaths occurred in 0.2 percent of the trastuzumab group versus 0.1 percent in women who didn’t get trastuzumab.

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The major finding of the new study, Perez told HealthDay, is that “this strategy [of adding trastuzumab] had long-term benefit to decrease cancer recurrence and improve survival.” The findings show not only that trastuzumab works, Perez said, “but sustainability of the benefit.”

The research was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and others, including Genentech, the company that makes Herceptin.

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