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|Monoclonal antibodies and breast cancer: resources
Monoclonal Antibody Therapy for breast cancer
Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is a monoclonal antibody that blocks a growth promoting protein known as HER2/neu. This protein is normally present in small amounts in normal breast tissue and most breast cancer cells. In about 20% of the patients with breast cancer, the amount of this Her2/neu protein is increased to a much greater level. Patients who have higher levels of this protein are called Her2/neu positive and tend to have more aggressive breast cancers.
Herceptin is capable of blocking the growth stimulating effect caused by the Her2/neu protein. Herceptin may also be capable of stimulating the immune system to set up a more efficient attack on the abnormally growing cancer cells. Herceptin is an effective treatment choice for some patients with Her2/neu positive breast cancer patients who had return of cancer or who are resistant to most of the chemotherapy drugs. Herceptin works much better in combination with chemotherapy in many patients. Use of herceptin in the setting of adjuvant therapy is still investigational with several clinical trials ongoing to determine this issue. Herceptin is much well tolerated and accepted by patients compared to chemotherapy. The most common side effects or herceptin are infusion related. These may include fever, rigor, chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and allergic rashes. Herceptin may cause damage to the heart muscle in about 5 to10 percent of women who receive this drug. This risk of heart damage may increase two to three fold if herceptin is used in combination with doxorubicin or epirubicin. Patients receiving herceptin should be aware of this side effect so that they can alert the physician to this possibility if they develop any decrease in their exercise tolerance. While chemotherapy may affect healthy cells as well as cancerous cells, herceptin specifically targets mostly tumor cells that produce larger amounts of the HER2/neu protein. Patients who are given herceptin alone may be less likely to experience the side effects typical of other types of treatments, such as hair loss, fatigue, or a decline in blood counts
A new study by the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX has found that pre-operative use of trastuzumab (Herceptin) in combination with chemotherapy in HER2 positive breast cancer patients results in complete pathological remission in about 66.7 percent of patients. For more details see:
New options in HER-2 positive breast cancer patients
Two new randomized trials have shown that Herceptin in combination with chemotherapy significantly improves disease free survival in patients with early stage breast cancer. To learn more about this see:
Herceptin Chemotherapy combination Improves survival in early stage breast cancer
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