All women with advanced
face a difficult and uncertain future. Most of them endure long courses of treatment that leave them looking to alternative or experimental therapies for a cure. A drug called trastuzumab attacks a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer in a unique way.
One aggressive form of breast cancer is characterized by too much of a protein known as human epithelial growth factor receptor-2 (HER2). This protein stimulates the growth of breast tumors. Trastuzumab is a monoclonal antibody, which blocks the HER2 receptor. This obstructs the growth of cancer cells.
Scientists have known since the 1980's that women whose breast cancers produce too much HER2 have cancers that are more aggressive and more likely to metastasize, or spread. Trastuzumab can enhance the effectiveness of standard
treatments by targeting the HER2 receptor and slowing its activity.
Several clinical studies show that women with HER2-positive tumors using trastuzumab with chemotherapy have slower cancer growth and better response to treatment. An early study from 2001 showed that trastuzumab when added to chemotherapy was effective in slowing disease progression in HER2-positive breast cancer patients. In women with HER2-positive operable breast cancer, trastuzumab combined with chemotherapy improved survival outcome compared to those without trastuzumab.
Combined results of 2 studies involving over 3,300 women found longer survival rates after 1 year of treatment with trastuzumab added to chemotherapy compared to those without trastuzumab.
In another study (the HERA trial), 1 year of treatment resulted in significant survival and less disease progression. In follow-up studies at 2 and 4 years, disease-free survival was maintained. Women who began treatment with trastuzumab after the first year of the study had similar results. There was little difference however, in overall survival or risk of death at the 4 year follow-up.
Unfortunately, although trastuzumab may be able to slow the growth of cancer cells, it is also associated with some serious side effects.
is a potentially life-threatening heart muscle weakness that can lead to
heart failure. This side effect is particularly common in women receiving chemotherapy with anthracyclines and cyclophosphamide. For this reason, woman considering trastuzumab have a thorough cardiac assessment before taking the drug and during treatment.
Other serious side effects include: Lung damageLife-threatening allergic reactionAnemia
More common side effects include: FeverDiarrheaInfectionsChillsIncreased coughHeadacheRashInsomnia
Trastuzumab is used only in cancers that overproduce HER2. It is now used for: Breast cancer after surgical treatment along with or after chemotherapyBreast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body along with or after chemotherapyStomach cancer or cancer at the junction of the stomach and esophagus that have spread to other parts of the body along with chemotherapy
Gianni L, Dafni U, Gelber RD, et al. Treatment with trastuzumab for 1 year after adjuvant chemotherapy in patients with HER2-positive early breast cancer: a 4-year follow-up of a randomised controlled trial.
Lancet Oncol. 2011;12(3):236-244.
Herceptin. Daily Med website. Available at:
http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=492dbdb2-077e-4064-bff3-372d6af0a7a2. Updated March 22, 2016. Accessed October 24, 2016.
Hortobagyi GN. Trastuzumab in the treatment of breast cancer.
N Engl J Med.
Piccart-Gebhart MJ, Procter M, et al. Trastuzumab after adjuvant chemotherapy in HER2-positive breast cancer.
N Engl J Med. 2005;353(16):1659-1672.
Romond EH, Perez EA, et al. Trastuzumab plus adjuvant chemotherapy for operable HER2-positive breast cancer.
N Engl J Med.
Slamon DJ, Leyland-Jones B, et al. Concurrent administration of anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody and first-line chemotherapy for HER2-overexpressing metastatic breast cancer: A phase III, multinational, randomized, controlled trial.
N Engl J Med.
Smith I, Procter M, et al. 2-year follow-up of trastuzumab after adjuvant chemotherapy in HER2-positive breast cancer: a randomised controlled trial.
Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.