ANNOUNCER: Twenty to 30 percent of breast cancers are of a type known as HER2-or HER2/neu-positive. These tumors tend to be more aggressive and more likely to metastasize.
WILLIAM GRADISHAR, MD: HER2-positive breast cancer historically has been thought to be a more aggressive type of breast cancer compared to its counterpart, HER2-negative disease. The implication being that those patients who are HER2-positive; all other features being similar, tend to have more recurrences and a shorter survival.
ANNOUNCER: But researchers have used their knowledge of how HER2-positive cancer grows to develop a targeted therapy. It's called Herceptin, and it's been shown to help extend survival for many people.
MARY CIANFROCCA, DO: Once breast cancer has metastasized, it's a very serious illness. It's an illness that generally we don't have the ability to cure, so we don't have the ability to make it go away and never come back again. What we try to do is turn it into a chronic disease that the woman can live with for many years. That's our general goal with our current therapies.
ANNOUNCER: In treating metastatic cancer, surgery is not used very often, for the cancer has already spread to other organs.
JOYCE O'SHAUGHNESSY, MD: Generally speaking, there is not a role for surgical resection for metastatic breast cancer, because when breast cancer metastasizes, it tends to metastasize to multiple areas in the same organ, not just one speck.
ANNOUNCER: Radiation therapy also plays only a limited role in treating metastatic breast cancer. But there are situations where it can be helpful.
MARY CIANFROCCA, DO: For example, a metastasis that is pressing on the spinal cord and causing dysfunction in that area can be very effectively treated with radiation. Also metastases to the brain are often treated with radiation. Another example where radiation is very useful is in metastatic disease to the bone that's causing significant pain.
ANNOUNCER: The main therapies for metastatic breast cancer are drugs that travel throughout the body, to attack cancer cells no matter where they may be.