About 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the USA, and 40,000 die. A drug called Herceptin could cure around 7,000 women suffering from breast cancer who would otherwise relapse.

Herceptin targets only diseased cells and is already used for advanced cancer. In three studies involving thousands of women with early-stage disease, it cut the risk of a relapse in half. Unfortunately, the drug does not help everyone.

In the first study, 220 women taking standard therapy for a year either developed breast cancer again, showed other kinds of tumors, or died. Only 127 did when Herceptin was introduced.

However, doctors say that some women get better without Herceptin. They also report that a small number taking the drug suffers heart failure.
The drug was used along with standard treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy. However, Herceptin is so potent that it raises the possibility that targeted drugs will someday let patients skip chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, which destroy both healthy and diseased tissue.

A year of Herceptin could cost $48,000 even at wholesale prices.