What is pertuzumab (Perjeta®), trastuzumab and docetaxel?

Pertuzumab (Perjeta®), trastuzumab and docetaxel is a combined treatment used to treat breast cancer. It may sometimes be used to treat other cancers.

Some cancer cells have too much of a protein called HER2 on their surface. This encourages the cells to grow. Cells from a biopsy or surgery can be tested for HER2.

Pertuzumab and trastuzumab belong to a group of targeted therapy drugs known as monoclonal antibodies. They lock onto the HER2 protein and stop the cancer cells from dividing and growing. They can be given with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel to treat HER2-positive cancer. 

It is best to read this information with our general information about chemotherapy and targeted therapy, and the type of cancer you have. Your doctor will talk to you about this treatment and its possible side effects before you agree (consent) to have treatment.

More information about this treatment

This information is correct at time of publishing. But sometimes the types of cancer this treatment is used for, or treatment side effects, may change between revision dates.

You can talk to your cancer team if you want more detailed information about this treatment. Or visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website, which has patient information leaflets (PIL) for individual drugs.

How pertuzumab, trastuzumab and docetaxel is given

You will be given this treatment at a chemotherapy day unit. A chemotherapy nurse will give it to you.

During treatment you usually see a cancer doctor, a chemotherapy nurse or specialist nurse, and a specialist pharmacist. This is who we mean when we mention doctor, nurse or pharmacist in this information.

Before or on the day of treatment, a nurse or person trained to take blood (phlebotomist) will take a blood sample from you. This is to check that your blood cells are at a safe level to have treatment.

You will see a doctor or nurse before you have treatment. They will ask you how you have been feeling. If your blood results are okay, the pharmacist will prepare your treatment. Your nurse will tell you when your treatment is likely to be ready. 

You may have steroids as an injection before your treatment. Or you may be given steroid tablets to take the day before your treatment. It is important to take these exactly as the doctor or nurse has explained to you. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you have not taken them for any reason.

Your nurse usually gives you anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs before the chemotherapy. They will also give you medicines to help prevent an allergic reaction.

Your treatment may be given through: 

  • a short thin tube the nurse puts into a vein in your arm or hand (cannula)
  • a fine tube that goes under the skin of your chest and into a vein close by (central line)
  • a fine tube that is put into a vein in your arm and goes up into a vein in your chest (PICC line).

The nurse gives your first treatment of pertuzumab slowly over about 1 hour. They monitor you for any reaction during it, and for about 1 hour afterwards. If you have no problems, you can usually have later doses over a shorter time. 

You also have your first dose of trastuzumab slowly, usually over 90 minutes. The nurses monitor you for about 6 hours afterwards to check for any reaction. If you have no problems, you can have further doses given over a shorter time. You will need monitoring for a much shorter period. 

Some people have a newer drug called Phesgo® instead of pertuzumab and trastuzumab. Phesgo® combines pertuzumab with trastuzumab. Your nurse gives it to you as an injection under the skin over several minutes. They monitor you for a while afterwards. Your doctor or nurse can tell you if Phesgo® is available. 

You will then have docetaxel, which is usually given over about 1 hour.

Your course of treatment

You usually have several cycles of treatment over a few months. Your nurse, pharmacist or doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.

Each cycle takes 21 days (3 weeks). 

You may continue to have pertuzumab and trastuzumab or Phesgo® after your treatment with docetaxel is over.

About side effects

We explain the most common side effects of this treatment here. We also include some that are less common. 

You may get some of the side effects we mention, but you are unlikely to get all of them. And you may have some side effects, including rarer ones, that we have not listed here. 

Other cancer treatments may cause different side effects. If you are also having other cancer treatment, you may have other side effects.

Always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any side effects you have. They can give you: 

  • drugs to help control some side effects 
  • advice about managing side effects. 

It is important to take any drugs exactly as explained. This means they will be more likely to work for you.

Serious and life-threatening side effects

Some cancer treatments can cause serious side effects. Sometimes, these may be life-threatening. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can explain the risk of these side effects to you.

Contact the hospital

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will give you 24-hour contact numbers for the hospital. If you feel unwell or need advice, you can call at any time of the day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.

Side effects while treatment is being given

Some people may have side effects while they are being given the chemotherapy or shortly after they have it:

Allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction while having this treatment. Signs of a reaction can include: 

  • feeling hot or flushed 
  • shivering
  • itching
  • a skin rash
  • feeling dizzy or sick
  • a headache
  • feeling breathless or wheezy
  • swelling of your face or mouth
  • pain in your back, tummy or chest. 

Your nurse will check you for signs of a reaction during your treatment. If you feel unwell or have any of these signs, tell them straight away. If you do have a reaction, they can treat it quickly. 

Sometimes a reaction happens a few hours after treatment. If you develop any of these signs or feel unwell after you get home, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number.

The drug leaks outside the vein

The drug may leak outside the vein. If this happens it can damage the tissue around the vein. This is called extravasation. Extravasation is not common but if it happens it is important that it is dealt with quickly. Tell your nurse straight away if you have any stinging, pain, redness or swelling around the vein. 

Pain along the vein

Docetaxel can cause pain and swelling at the place where the drip (infusion) is given or along the vein. If you feel pain, tell your nurse or doctor straight away so that they can check the site. They may give the drug more slowly or flush it through with more fluid to reduce pain.

Problems at the injection site

If you are having Phesgo® (pertuzumab and trastuzumab as an injection under the skin) you may have discomfort or redness in the injection area. This is usually mild and temporary.

Common side effects

Risk of infection

This treatment can reduce the number of white blood cells in your blood. These cells fight infection. If your white blood cell count is low, you may be more likely to get an infection. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.

An infection can be very serious when the number of white blood cells is low. It is important to get any infection treated as soon as possible. If you have any of the following symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number:

  • a temperature above 37.5°C  
  • a temperature below 36°C 
  • you feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
  • you have symptoms of an infection.

Symptoms of an infection include:

  • feeling shivery and shaking
  • a sore throat
  • a cough 
  • breathlessness
  • diarrhoea
  • needing to pass urine (pee) often, or discomfort when you pass urine.

It is important to follow any specific advice your cancer treatment team gives you.

Your white blood cell count will usually return to normal before your next treatment. You will have a blood test before having more treatment. If your white blood cell count is low, your doctor may delay your treatment for a short time, until your cell count increases.

Bruising and bleeding

This treatment can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot.

If the number of platelets is low, you may bruise or bleed easily. You may have:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • heavy periods
  • blood in your urine (pee) or stools (poo)
  • tiny red, brown or purple spots that may look like a rash – these spots can be harder to see if you have black or brown skin. 

If you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. You may need a drip to give you extra platelets. This is called a platelet transfusion.

Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)

This treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells in your blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If the number of red blood cells is low, this is called anaemia. You may feel:

  • very low in energy
  • breathless 
  • dizzy and light-headed. 

If you have these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. You may need treatment for anaemia. If you are very anaemic, you may need a drip to give you extra red blood cells. This is called a blood transfusion.

Feeling sick

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will prescribe anti-sickness drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as they tell you to, even if you do not feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness than to treat it after it has started.

If you feel sick, take small sips of fluid often and eat small amounts regularly. It is important to drink enough fluids. If you continue to feel sick, or if you are sick (vomit) 1 to 2 times in 24 hours, contact the hospital on the 24-hour number as soon as possible. They will give you advice. They may change your anti-sickness treatment. Let them know if you still feel sick.

Diarrhoea

This treatment may cause severe diarrhoea. Diarrhoea means passing more stools (poo) than is normal for you, or having watery or loose stools. If you have a stoma, it will be more active than usual. 

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist may give you anti-diarrhoea drugs to take at home. 

If you have diarrhoea or a mild increase in stoma activity, follow their advice about: 

  • taking anti-diarrhoea drugs 
  • how much and what type of fluids to drink 
  • any changes to your diet that might help. 

Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if:

  • you have diarrhoea at night 
  • you have uncomfortable stomach cramps
  • you have diarrhoea 4 or more times in a day 
  • you have a moderate increase in stoma activity 
  • the anti-diarrhoea drugs do not work within 24 hours.

You may need to give a stool sample, or go to hospital to have fluids through a drip or antibiotics.

Constipation

This treatment can cause constipation. Constipation means that you are not able to pass stools (poo) as often as you normally do. It can become difficult or painful. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day.
  • Eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread.
  • Do regular gentle exercise, like going for short walks.

If you have constipation, contact the hospital on the 24-hour number for advice. They can give you drugs called laxatives to help. 

If you have not been able to pass stools for over 2 days and are being sick, contact the 24-hour number straight away. 

Sore mouth and throat

This treatment may cause a sore mouth and throat. You may also get mouth ulcers. This can make you more likely to get a mouth or throat infection. Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth or dentures in the morning, at night and after meals.

If your mouth or throat is sore:

  • tell your nurse or doctor – they can give you a mouthwash or medicines to help
  • try to drink plenty of fluids
  • avoid alcohol, tobacco and foods that irritate your mouth and throat.

It is more common to have a sore mouth with docetaxel. It will usually improve once you finish the chemotherapy.

Hair loss

You usually lose all the hair from your head. You may also lose your eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as other body hair. Hair loss usually starts after your first or second treatment.

Scalp cooling is a way of lowering the temperature of your scalp to help reduce hair loss. Your nurse can tell you whether this is an option for you.

If you want to cover up hair loss, there are different ways to do this. Your nurse can give you information about coping with hair loss. Remember to protect your skin from the sun. Use suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on your scalp. Or cover up with a hat or scarf.

Hair loss is usually temporary. Your hair will usually grow back after treatment ends. Very rarely, hair may not grow back. Or it may grow back thinner than before. If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Loss of appetite

This treatment can affect your appetite. Don’t worry if you do not eat much for 1 or 2 days. But if your appetite does not come back after a few days, or if you are losing weight, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They can give you advice. They may give you food or drink supplements. Or they may suggest changes to your diet or eating habits to help.

Feeling tired

Feeling tired is a common side effect of this treatment. It is often worse towards the end of treatment and for some weeks after it ends. Try to pace yourself and plan your day so you have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can help you feel less tired. 

If you feel sleepy, do not drive or use machinery.

Headaches

This treatment may cause headaches. If you have headaches, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They can give you advice about painkillers that may help. Tell them if the headache does not get better, or gets worse.

Skin changes

This treatment may affect your skin. It may cause a rash, which might be itchy. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what to expect. If your skin feels dry, try using an unperfumed moisturising cream every day. 

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any changes to your skin. They can give you advice and may prescribe creams or medicines to help. Skin changes usually improve when treatment finishes.

Rarely, a more serious skin condition can develop. You may have a skin rash which then blisters, and your skin can peel. You may also feel unwell with flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature and joint pain. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or hospital straight away.

Hand-foot (palmar-plantar) syndrome

This treatment can affect the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. This is called palmar-plantar or hand-foot syndrome. 

If you have white skin these areas may become red. If you have black or brown skin, these areas might get darker. 

The skin on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet may:

  • be sore
  • be painful, tingle, or swell
  • peel, crack or blister. 

If you have any of these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number. They can give you advice. This is especially important if you have any broken skin or if walking is difficult. They can prescribe creams and painkillers to help.

You can care for your hands and feet by: 

  • keeping your hands and feet cool by washing in cool water
  • gently moisturising your hands and feet regularly
  • wearing gloves to protect your hands and nails when working in the house or garden
  • wearing loose cotton socks and avoiding tight-fitting shoes and gloves.

Nail changes

This treatment can affect your nails. They may grow more slowly or break more easily. You might notice ridges or white or dark lines across your nails. Sometimes nails can become loose or fall out. When treatment finishes, any changes usually disappear as the nails grow out.

There are things you can do to look after your nails. Tell your doctor or nurse if you notice changes to your nails. They can give you advice or arrange for you to see a podiatrist for foot care advice if needed.

Changes to your taste

You may get a bitter or metal taste in your mouth. Some foods may taste different, or have no taste. Try different foods to find out what tastes best to you. Taste changes usually get better after treatment finishes. Your nurse can give you more advice.

Muscle or joint pain

You may get pain in your muscles or joints for a few days after treatment. If this happens, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They can give you painkillers and advice. They can also tell you if any of the painkillers you usually take are suitable. 

If you have muscle or joint pain, try:

  • placing a heat pad or covered hot water bottle against the painful area
  • taking warm baths
  • planning your activities to include regular rests.

Numb or tingling hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)

This treatment may affect the nerves in your fingers and toes. This can cause numbness, tingling or pain in your hands or feet. This is called peripheral neuropathy. You might find it hard to do fiddly tasks such as fastening buttons or tying shoelaces.

If you have these symptoms, always tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. They sometimes need to change the drug or the dose of the drug. The symptoms usually improve slowly after treatment ends. But for some people they continue and are a long-term side effect of treatment.

Fluid build-up

If fluid builds up in your body:

  • you may put on weight
  • your ankles, legs and hands may swell.

Your doctor will prescribe steroid tablets to help prevent this. Tell your doctor or nurse if fluid builds up. 

If your ankles and legs swell, it can help to put your legs up on a footstool or cushion. The swelling gets better after your treatment ends.

Effects on the heart

This treatment can affect how the heart works. You will have tests to see how well your heart is working. These are done before, during and after treatment. If tests show signs of heart changes or you develop symptoms of heart problems, these can be treated with tablets.  

Contact your doctor straight away on the 24-hour number the hospital has given you if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:

  • pain or tightness in your chest
  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • changes to your heartbeat.

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor. If you cannot get through to your doctor, call the NHS urgent advice number on 111.

Effects on the lungs

This treatment can cause changes to the lungs. Tell your doctor if you develop:

  • a cough
  • wheezing
  • breathlessness.

You should also tell them if any existing breathing problems get worse. You may have tests to check your lungs.

If your symptoms come on suddenly, contact the hospital immediately. You may have inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis). Your doctor can tell you more about this.

Difficulty sleeping

If you have difficulty sleeping tell your nurse or doctor. They can give you advice.

Eye changes

Your eyes may become watery. Sometimes they may become sore and inflamed (conjunctivitis). Your doctor can prescribe eye drops if you need them. If you have blurred vision or notice any changes in your vision, always contact your doctor straight away. 

Blocked or runny nose, or nose bleeds

These side effects are not usually serious. But if you have any of them, tell your doctor or nurse. They may be able to help if you find the side effects difficult to cope with.

Dizziness

If you feel dizzy or drowsy, tell your doctor. It is important not to drive or operate machinery if you feel this way.

Other information

Blood clot risk

Cancer and some cancer treatments can increase the risk of a blood clot. Contact the hospital straight away on the 24-hour number if you have any of these symptoms during or after treatment:

  • throbbing pain or swelling in a leg or arm
  • reddening of the skin in the area – if you have black or brown skin, this can be harder to notice, but the skin might become darker
  • suddenly feeling breathless or coughing.

Always call 999 if you have:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing.

A blood clot is serious, but it can be treated with drugs called anticoagulants. These thin the blood. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you more information about preventing and treating blood clots.

Other medicines

Some medicines can affect how this treatment works or be harmful while you are having it. Always tell your cancer doctor, nurse or pharmacist about any drugs you are taking or planning to take, such as: 

Alcohol

Some preparations of this treatment contain alcohol. If having alcohol is a problem for you, tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Your blood alcohol level may be above the legal limit after you have the treatment. Do not drive or operate machinery for a few hours after having this treatment, even if you feel okay.

Vaccinations

Doctors usually recommend that people with cancer have vaccinations for flu and for coronavirus (covid). These help reduce your risk of serious illness from these infections. Most people can have these vaccines, including people with weak immune systems.

If your immune system is weak, you should not have live vaccinations. Live vaccines can make you unwell because they contain a very weak version of the illness they will protect you against. Live vaccines include Zostavax®, which is a shingles vaccine, and the yellow fever vaccine.

It is important to ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice about having vaccinations. They can explain what vaccines are right for you and when it is best to have them.

Fertility

Some cancer drugs can affect whether you can get pregnant or make someone pregnant. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

Contraception

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise you not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant while having this treatment and for some time afterwards. The drugs may harm a developing baby. It is important to use contraception to prevent pregnancy. Follow their advice about:

  • what types of contraception to use 
  • how long after treatment you should continue to use contraception. 

Sex

It is possible that small amounts of chemotherapy may be passed on through vaginal fluids or semen. If you have sex during this treatment, your cancer team will usually advise using condoms or a dental dam to protect your partner.

Breastfeeding

You are advised not to breastfeed while having this treatment, or for some time after treatment ends. This is because the drugs could be passed to the baby through breast milk. 

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can give you more information.

Medical and dental treatment

If you need medical treatment for any reason other than cancer, always tell the healthcare professional that you are having cancer treatment. Give them the contact details for your cancer doctor or cancer team so they can ask for advice.

If you have appointments with a dentist, always tell them you are having cancer treatment. Talk to your cancer team before you have any dental treatment.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert health professionals and people living with cancer.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 August 2023
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Next review: 01 August 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.