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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 may be given to try to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back in men whose breast cancer cells have a large number of HER2 receptors on their surface. This is called HER2 positive breast cancer. Research into using Herceptin has only been carried out in women with breast cancer, so it’s specific benefits in men with breast cancer aren’t clear yet.
Herceptin works by attaching to HER2 receptors| (or 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.
Men who have HER2 positive breast cancer that has spread (secondary breast cancer|) may be given Herceptin on its own or with chemotherapy depending on what, if any, treatment they have already had. The aim of treatment in this situation will be to shrink the cancer and control it.
Herceptin is given as a drip (intravenous infusion). This can be through a fine, plastic tube (cannula) in the back of your hand or through a central line. 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, each infusion will be given over about 30-90 minutes.
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. If it’s being used to treat secondary breast cancer, treatment will continue for as long as it is working.
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 a 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 diarrhoea, headaches and feeling sick.
Herceptin may lead to heart problems in some men.
Usually, any effect is mild and reversible. Because of this risk, Herceptin isn’t normally given to men 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.
Content last reviewed: 1 September 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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