Fact Checked

What is Herceptin?

Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal

Herceptin (trastuzumab) is a medicine that is used to stop breast cancer. It has also been used to reduce the size of tumors. Herceptin can be taken in both the early and advanced stages of breast cancer. Cancer experts believe that Herceptin will be integral in saving many lives.

Herceptin can be administered in combination with chemotherapy treatment. It can also be given to patients who have previously had two courses of chemotherapy treatment. The drug has been used for some time to treat women in the advanced stages of breast cancer. It has only recently been licensed to be administered to early stage breast cancer patients.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

The drug is administered through a tube into the vein. Herceptin only works on breast cancer sufferers with high levels of the protein HER2. HER2 is found on the surface of some cancer cells. The drug attaches itself to the HER2 protein and stops epidermal growth factor from reaching the cancer cells. This prevents the cancer cells from multiplying and growing.

Herceptin will have no affect on cancer sufferers who do not have the HER2 protein. Breast cancer sufferers with very high levels of the HER2 protein may not be suitable for Herceptin treatment. The drug is also not suitable for people who suffer from heart complaints. One of the possible side effects of treatment with Herceptin is heart irregularities.

Studies on Herceptin have shown that the drug reduces the risk of a tumor reappearing by 50%. Herceptin has been particularly successful in women in the advanced stages of breast cancer. One woman is known to be alive nine years after the drug was administered.

As with all drugs, there are possible side effects associated with Herceptin. These can include diarrhea and headaches. High temperatures and flu-like symptoms may also appear. There have also been reports of pain to the tumor area and areas where the cancer has spread. Rare side effects include rashes, itching and allergic reactions. If any of these side effects occur, medication can be administered to treat them. Before beginning any course of Herceptin, a doctor will conduct a thorough examination of the heart in order to avoid any complications that may occur with heart problems.

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Discussion Comments


I am also scheduled to begin Herceptin soon. I have stage one lobular breast cancer with HER2 positive. I'm wondering if the possible side effects outweigh the benefits.


My Mom is being given herceptin. Her HER2 level was around 2.7, I believe... I understand this is fairly high.



I am scheduled to begin Herceptin next week, but am having many doubts about its safety. In your article, it states "breast cancer sufferers with very high levels of the HER2 protein may not be suitable for Herceptin treatment." May I ask why, and what is considered "high level". thank you for your help. sincerely, Jackie

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