After receiving glowing tributes for its miraculous properties, Herceptin, the breast cancer wonder drug came down to earth as the most respected British medical journal questioned its effectiveness.
"The available evidence is insufficient to make reliable judgments. It is profoundly misleading to suggest, even rhetorically, that the published data may be indicative of a cure for breast cancer," the editors of The Lancet wrote in an article that was released online on Wednesday. This castigation comes just three week's after the New England Journal of Medicine called the drug 'revolutionary.' Health care providers on this side of the Atlantic are not amused by the wide publicity that has been given to the drug. It is since sparked a wide demand for Herceptin with some patients even taking the legal recourse to avail a prescription for the same. "Study results are preliminary, inconsistent and raise extremely serious concerns about safety," The Lancet's chief editor, Dr. Richard Horton, said. He added that he was angry that the NEJM had published this without adequately assessing the drug's impact.
Basically Herceptin is designed for women whose breast cancer has undergone a genetic mutation and responds poorly to traditional means of treatment. In other words, only advanced cancers can benefit by its use. The Lancet decided to take action after the British health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, publicly demanded the National Health Service provide the drug to a woman who had sued for the same. "The last thing we should want is to have a politician campaigning on behalf of a drug," Horton commented. "It's a crazy way to make what should be a scientific decision."
Meanwhile, Roche, the Swiss makers of the drug said that they had read The Lancet article, but did not agree with it. The journal said that Herceptin caused heart failure in the women who used it. Katja Prowald, a spokeswoman for the company said that they would be releasing a further analysis on Thursday.
"The debate about the availability of Herceptin to women with early breast cancer demands cooler heads than have so far prevailed, in politics, in public, and even in medical journals," The Lancet editorial concluded.