Herceptin (trastuzumab) Targets HER2 Positive Breast Cancer

Herceptin (trastuzumab) is an approved cancer treatment for certain breast, stomach and esophagus cancers that are HER2-positive – positive for the Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2 protein.

Breast cancers with too much of this protein tend to grow and spread more aggressively without special treatment.

About 20% of breast cancer cases and 10-20% of stomach cancers are HER2-Positive.

Herceptin is an artificially created antibody that works to fight off cancer cells much like naturally produced antibodies which fight off germs. Herceptin is a targeted drug therapy that attacks a specific protein called the HER2 protein, which causes cancer cells to grow.

Unlike traditional chemotherapy drugs, which often wind up attacking healthy cells along with the cancer cells, a targeted chemotherapy treatment like Herceptin targets the HER2 protein, within the cancer cells, while striving to leave healthy cells alone.

In breast cancer, Herceptin is used in 3 different ways:

1. After the cancer has been surgically removed, this treatment is called adjuvant
2. Before surgery in order to shrink the cancer so it is more easily removable by surgery, that is called Neoadjuvant treatment
3. When the cancer has spread and cannot be removed by surgery. This is called advanced or metastatic cancer treatment.

And Herceptin can be prescribed in two ways:
It can be given intravenously by itself, or in combination with other cancer treatment drugs.
How often it is given depends on the specific treatment plan.

The current treatment results with Herceptin have been impressive, ranging from total cure to prolonging the lives of patients with breast or stomach cancers.

Side Effects
More common side effects of Herceptin may include diarrhea, fatigue, rash, and low blood cell counts which may result in infection. If a patient experiences trouble breathing, chest pain, unusual rash or a lot of swelling these could be signs of more serious side effects.

Some women may develop heart damage during or after treatment with an antibody drug like Herceptin.

This may lead to a problem called congestive heart failure. In most cases, but not all, this effect lasts a short time and gets better when the drug is stopped. The risk of heart problems is higher if these antibody drugs like Herceptin are administered along with other chemo drugs that can also cause heart damage, such as doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and epirubicin (Ellence).

Because these drugs can cause heart damage, doctors will often check your heart function (with an echocardiogram or a MUGA scan) before administering the treatment, and will continue to monitor it again every few months while you are taking the drug. Major symptoms of congestive heart failure are shortness of breath, leg swelling, and severe fatigue. Let your doctor know if you develop any of these symptoms.

Another side effect of Herceptin is that it reduces amniotic fluid, which can result in fetal harm, so it is important not to become pregnant while taking Herceptin. Also patients should not breast feed while on Herceptin treatment because it can get into the breast milk.

Herceptin harnesses our immune system to knock out cancer!. It is revolutionizing the way we treat HER2 Positive cancers.

Herceptin (trastuzumab) is developed by Genentech.

More Information
Learn More About Targeted Cancer Treatment.
Learn More About New Cancer Drugs – Visit the New Cancer Treatments page.
Find More Information on Clinical Trials for Cancer Treatment.