The strategic fight against HER2-positive breast cancer

Breast cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the breast tissue. Some breast tumors have too much of a special protein called HER2. This protein controls cell growth, so tumors that have a lot of it—called HER2-positive or HER2+ tumors—tend to grow faster and spread more quickly than tumors that don't. These tumors also have an increased chance of coming back after treatment.

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Targeted therapy can stop HER2 in its tracks

Fortunately, treatment is available to help beat HER2-positive breast cancer. Targeted therapy (sometimes also called immunotherapy or monoclonal antibody therapy) uses drugs that specifically target certain molecules and proteins—including the HER2 protein—to stop cancer cells from growing and spreading.

These targeted therapy drugs include:

  • Herceptin (trastuzumab). Given through an IV, this drug targets the HER2 protein in cancer cells to slow or stop their growth.
  • Perjeta (pertuzumab). This drug works the same way as trastuzumab and is also given through an IV, but it targets a different section of the HER2 protein. The two may be used together with chemotherapy.
  • Tykerb (lapatinib). Rather than attacking the protein itself, this drug stops the HER2 protein from working inside tumor cells. It stops the growth reactions that HER2 triggers, before they can start. Taken orally as a pill, it may be used if chemotherapy and trastuzumab aren't working.

These drugs can be combined with chemotherapy treatments or used on their own.

Is targeted therapy right for me?

Talk to your doctor to see if targeted therapy for HER2-positive breast cancer is right for you. There can be some side effects and interactions with other medicines, so let your doctor know about any other medicines you're taking.