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Clinical utility of the combination of lapatinib and letrozole in the management of hormone receptor-positive and HER2-positive advanced breast cancer

Authors Merriam, Sikov B

Published 26 October 2011 Volume 2011:3 Pages 139—150


Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 5

Priscilla Merriam, William M Sikov
Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Abstract: Breast cancers that overexpress human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2-positive [HER2+]) tend to be biologically aggressive and associated with a poor prognosis, even those that coexpress receptors for estrogen and/or progesterone (hormone receptor-positive [HR+]). Optimal therapy for patients with “double-positive” (HR+/HER2+) breast cancers is still being defined. In this subset of patients, the efficacy of targeted endocrine therapies appears to be diminished by cross-activation or “crosstalk” between estrogen receptor-mediated gene transcription and pathways activated by other growth factor receptors, including HER2. Lapatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor which binds reversibly to the intracellular domains of the epidermal growth factor receptor and HER2, interfering with their ability to initiate signal transduction cascades that promote cancer cell proliferation, survival, and metastasis. In a recently published randomized, placebo-controlled Phase III study in postmenopausal HR+ metastatic breast cancer, the addition of lapatinib to the aromatase inhibitor letrozole significantly improved progression-free survival solely in women who were also HER2+. This article reviews the biology of “double-positive” breast cancers and the rationale underlying combining endocrine and HER2-targeted therapies, including the lapatinib/letrozole combination, for these tumors. Results from the Phase III trial are examined, as well as available data on other combinations of HR and HER2-targeted therapies. Ongoing trials and potential future applications of these combinations in both HR+/HER2+ and other subgroups of breast cancer patients are also discussed.

Keywords: breast neoplasm, erbB2, estrogen receptor, letrozole, lapatinib

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