What is targeted therapy?

The goal of this targeted therapy is to “target” cancer cells, which causes less harm to healthy cells than chemotherapy and potentially fewer side effects. Targeted therapy uses drugs that are designed to interfere with specific molecules located in or on a cancer cell. These molecules help cancer cells to grow and divide. Targeted therapy may be used alone or in combination with other drugs. Trastuzumab (Herceptin©) is the most commonly used type of targeted therapy.

Other targeted therapies are:

  • Lapatinib (Tykerb©)
  • Pertuzumab (Perjeta©)
  • Everolimus (Afinitor©)
  • Denosumab (Xgeva©)

What is Herceptin?

Herceptin is a targeted therapy drug commonly given to women with tumors that make too much of the protein HER2. HER2 proteins are found on the surface of cancer cells and can receive signals from outside the cell that stimulate the cells to grow. Herceptin works by attaching to HER2 protein and blocking these growth signals.

Who would be offered Herceptin?

If your pathology report indicates that your breast cancer is HER2 positive, you might be given Herceptin. About 20-25% of women with breast cancer are HER2 positive.

How and when is Herceptin given?

Herceptin is given by intravenous (IV) infusion, usually once every three weeks. You will need to go to the hospital or cancer centre to get your treatment. Most women stay on Herceptin for a year, although some may stay on it longer. Herceptin can be given on its own or with other chemotherapy drugs.

What are the common side effects?

Since Herceptin specifically targets HER2 proteins, there are usually fewer and less severe side effects associated with Herceptin as compared to chemotherapy drugs. During your drug infusion or shortly after receiving it, you may experience flu-like symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • chills
  • muscle aches
  • nausea

Links to more information

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Targeted Therapy

Targeted Therapies
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Targeted Therapy
Breast Cancer Care UK

Targeted Therapy 
American Cancer Society

Biological Therapy for Breast Cancer
Cancer Help UK