Approved by the FDA in 2013, Perjeta (pertuzumab) is showing promise as a breast cancer treatment for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer.

Administered intravenously as part of a chemotherapy treatment that includes cancer drugs Herceptin and Taxotere, this targeted therapy may be used in the neoadjuvant treatment, where chemotherapy is given to the patient before surgery, as well as during the initial treatment for late stage metastatic breast cancer, where the patient’s cancer has spread beyond the breast to other areas.

HER2-positive breast cancer refers to a form of cancer that contains the HER2 protein – human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 – which promotes the growth of cancer cells. About 20% of breast cancers have cancer cells with this gene mutation that creates an excess of the HER2 protein. In general, this form of cancer tends to be more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer.  The possibility of patients having this protein is tested for on the cancer in the pathology department.

Treatments such as Perjeta that specifically target the HER2 protein are proving to be very effective in improving the prognosis for HER2 positive breast cancer. It targets the cancer cells by binding to the HER2 positive protein on these cells.

Treatments are given once every three weeks. When used for neo-adjuvant treatment it is given for 3 to 6 cycles, with one cycle being three weeks. For metastatic treatment it is given for as long as it is working.

According to studies involving HER2-positive breast cancer, Perjeta has improved both the disease free rates and the overall survival rate of patients compared to treatments without the drug. The disease free survival rate was improved by approximately 7 months and the overall survival time was improved by 15 months.

Side Effects
As with any cancer drug treatment, patients may experience side effects. Some common side effects with Perjeta may include the following: Diarrhea, temporary hair loss, nausea, fatigue, skin rash and dry skin, low white blood cell counts and peripheral neuropathy, which may create numbness or pain in the hands and feet.

Less common side effects from using Perjeta may cause heart problems, severe allergic reactions and infusion reactions (as the drug is delivered into a vein through a needle) and febrile neutropenia, which occurs as a fever and significantly reduces a patient’s white blood cells, making them more susceptible to infections.

Women should also not become pregnant while taking Perjeta, as exposure to this treatment can result in embryo-fetal death and birth defects.

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