When treating breast cancer patients with the highly effective medication Herceptin, medical professionals are increasingly faced with the dilemma of having to make the tough choice between providing beneficial life-saving treatments and using highly effective drugs which are known to cause dangerous side effects such as heart failure.
Herceptin, an effective and widely used treatment for breast cancer has been implicated in incidents of heart failure in breast cancer survivors who have used the drug. Despite this drug’s approval by the FDA, the administrative body responsible in the United States for testing and approving new drugs, individuals who have received the medication as breast cancer therapy have been shown to experience heart failure subsequent to taking the drug for the condition it has been approved to alleviate. This occurrence is proving that the approval of the FDA, which is supposed to establish industry standards for safe medications, is not an infallible approval which can predict unforeseeable complications from arising in patients who have been prescribed the medication in good faith.
A certain degree of risk is to be expected while using cutting-edge drug therapies to combat breast cancer.
However, is it unacceptable for patients to first use a drug anticipating a positive result and then to later suffer new and unrelated complications to their health? These known complications are now appearing in breast cancer patients in the form of heart failure. This heart failure is being caused by the very drug they at first considered to be a partial cure of their underlying disease of cancer.
While breast cancer survivors are known to benefit from the use of this medication, its implication for the overall health of the patient is the potential risk of heart failure to the recipient of the drug, and therefore, is taking it worth the risk?
The medical field now faces a decision that it must reach: what side effects are to be tolerated by patients and doctors, and which go too far?
Is consent of the patient desperate for treatment enough to allow the use of questionable medications by medical science?
How does the old adage followed for eons by medical professionals of “first do no harm” fit in throughout this inquiry?
Medical science will have to continue its soul-searching to resolve this question completely. In the meantime, should the drug be allowed to be continued in use for breast cancer survivors knowing what the profession knows now?