Cancer drug case study: Tyverb

tyverbJo Waters, 55, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. She had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  Then she had six cycles of Herceptin. It appeared to work.

“I had two years of remission. ” she said. But then the cancer came back in the sternum and the lymph nodes.” Another year of chemotherapy and Herceptin – but this time together. “I had three weeks of treatment, followed by one week off,” said Waters, who lives in St Lawrence Bay, Essex.

After one year she had to stop. “Your veins get very badly hardened in the end, from the chemotherapy, and it becomes very difficult for the doctors to give anything intravenously.”

In autumn 2007 she was put onto a combination of Capecitabin, a chemotherapy taken orally, and Herceptin. After six months this treatment was found to have failed. The outlook was bleak. “I thought I had possibly a year at most.” But by then she was eligible for the medical trial of Tyverb. *

She takes Tyverb and Herceptin tablets every day. It has transformed her life, she says. “I don’t have to go to hospital every Friday any more,” she says. “So I’ve gained a day a week of my life back. On Tyverb, you don’t lose your hair, you don’t feel sick.”

Waters knew the drug might give her a little extra time, but had no idea it would work so well for her. Eighteen months on, her cancer is stable.

She feels so much better that she is able to do a full time job as a secretary in London. “I get up in the morning, take my tablets and go off to work. The psychological difference is huge. It doesn’t seem quite as devastating. Now I can go quite long periods of time without giving my cancer any thought.” It has made a huge difference, she says. “It’s nicer for the family, because I look so much better. If you walked past me on the street, you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with me at all. People aren’t walking on eggshells around me all the time any more; people treat me like myself. And I still do all the housework, the gardening and painting.” In fact she felt so well, she was able to enjoy a skiing holiday with her husband and two children.

This article adapted from the Guardian online

*Tyverb is also known as lapatinib, and is a similar drug to Herceptin, but given in tablet form rather than by intravenous drip. It’s designed for patients with an aggressive form of advanced breast cancer that has not responded to other treatments.Like Herceptin, its use is limited to those cancers that overproduce the HER2 protein.