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Trastuzumab|, which is usually known as Herceptin, is a type of biological therapy called a monoclonal antibody|. Monoclonal antibodies recognise and lock onto specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells.
Herceptin is used to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back in women whose breast cancer cells have a large number of HER2 receptors| on their surface. This is called HER2 positive breast cancer|.
Herceptin works by attaching to HER2 receptors (proteins) on the surface of breast cancer cells. This stops the cancer cells from dividing and growing. It also works by encouraging the body’s own immune cells to destroy the cancer cells.
You’ll usually have Herceptin every three weeks for a year. It can be given at the same time as your chemotherapy|, or on its own after other treatments have finished.
Herceptin is given by injection through a fine tube (cannula) into a vein (intravenously). You’ll have it in the chemotherapy day unit or outpatient department. The first dose is given slowly, usually over about an hour and a half, so the nurses can check you for any reaction that may occur. After this, the infusion will be given over about 30 minutes.
The side effects of Herceptin are usually mild. Some occur during the infusion or within about four hours of the drug being given, particularly with the first dose. These include flu-like symptoms, such as headache, high temperature (fever) and chills, or feeling sick. They generally get better within a few hours of the infusion finishing. Another possible side effect is an allergic reaction, but this is rare. Signs may include a skin rash, itching, wheezing or feeling breathless. You’ll be checked closely during the infusion and if you do have a reaction, it can be treated quickly with drugs.
Side effects can also occur a few days or weeks after treatment. These include:
Herceptin may lead to heart problems in some women. Usually, any effect is mild and reversible. Because of this risk, Herceptin isn’t normally given to women who already have heart problems or uncontrolled high blood pressure. You’ll have tests on your heart before treatment to check that it’s healthy, and tests during treatment to make sure Herceptin isn’t causing any damage.
For more detailed information about Herceptin, including side effects, please see our section on trastuzumab (Herceptin®).|
Herceptin is also used to treat secondary or advanced breast cancer (cancer that has spread). It can be used on its own or in combination with chemotherapy. Herceptin is used to treat secondary breast cancer in:
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
For further references, please see general bibliography|.
Content last reviewed: 1 August 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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