Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) can be used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer that is either early-stage or advanced-stage/metastatic.
Herceptin is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- to treat metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer to stop cancer from growing
- to treat earlier stages of HER2-positive breast cancer, either as part of a regimen with chemotherapy or alone after a chemotherapy regimen that includes an anthracycline, to reduce the risk of the breast cancer coming back (recurrence)
- in combination with Perjeta (chemical name: pertuzumab) and Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel) before surgery to treat HER2-positive, early-stage (the cancer must be larger than 2 cm or cancer must be in the lymph nodes), inflammatory, or locally advanced-stage breast cancer with a high risk of metastasizing or becoming fatal
- in combination with Perjeta and chemotherapy after surgery to treat HER2-positive, early-stage breast cancer with a high risk of recurrence
How Herceptin works
Cancer cells grow in an uncontrolled fashion. Herceptin works on the surface of the cancer cell by blocking the chemical signals that can stimulate this uncontrolled growth.
Genes are like instruction manuals that tell each cell of your body how to grow, what kind of cell to become, and how to behave. Genes do this by ordering the cell to make special proteins that cause a certain activity — such as cell growth, rest, or repair.
Some cancer cells have abnormalities in genes that tell the cell how much and how fast to grow. Sometimes the cancer cells have too many copies of these genes with abnormalities. When there are too many copies of these genes, doctors refer to it as “overexpression.” With some forms of gene overexpression, cancer cells will make too many of the proteins that control cell growth and division, causing the cancer to grow and spread.