Background: Targeted cancer therapy is often complex, involving multiple agents and chemotherapeutic partners. In Australia, prescribing restrictions are put in place to reflect existing evidence of cost-effectiveness of these medicines. As therapeutic options continue to expand, these restrictions may not be perceived to align with best practice and it is not known if their use in the real-world clinic adheres to these restrictions. We examined the treatment of women receiving trastuzumab for HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer (HER2+MBC) to determine the extent to which treatment adhered to national prescribing restrictions.

Patients and methods: Our population-based, retrospective cohort study used dispensing records for every Australian woman initiating publicly-subsidised trastuzumab for HER2+MBC between 2001±2013, followed through 2016. We used group-based trajectory models (GBTMs) to cluster patients, first on their patterns of trastuzumab exposure, and then on their patterns of lapatinib and chemotherapy exposure. We described the characteristics of patients within each cluster, and examined their treatments and combinations of treatments to determine restriction adherence.

Results: Of 5,052 patients initiating trastuzumab, 1,795 (36%) received at least one non-adherent HER2-targeted treatment. The most common non-adherent treatments were trastuzumab combinations involving vinorelbine (24% of non-adherent treatments); capecitabine (24%); and anthracyclines (10%). Non-adherent lapatinib use was observed in 4% of patients. GBTM identified three trastuzumab exposure clusters, each containing three further subclusters. The largest proportions of non-adherent treatments were in sub-clusters with longer trastuzumab exposure and more non-taxane chemotherapy. Patients in these sub-clusters were younger than those in sub-clusters with less non-adherent treatment.

Conclusions: Our study highlights that, even during the relatively simpler treatment era of our study period, a substantial amount of treatment did not adhere to prescribing restrictions. As more trials are conducted exploring pertuzumab and T-DM1 in combination with different chemotherapies and other HER2-targeted therapies, the regulation and funding of HER2-targeted treatment will become more challenging.


cancer treatment, clinical trials, chemotherapy, combination chemotherapy, chemotherapeutic agents, oncology, breast cancer, Australia

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