Herceptin (trastuzumab) is a treatment, known as targeted therapy or biological therapy, that may be given to some people with breast cancer together with chemotherapy. It is a type of drug known as a monoclonal antibody. It works by attaching to HER2 receptors (proteins) on the surface of breast cancer cells. This stops the cancer cells from dividing and growing. It may also allow the body’s defences to fight better against the cancer cells.
Herceptin can reduce the chance of breast cancer coming back after initial treatment for early breast cancer. However, it is only effective for people whose breast cancer cells have a large number of the HER2 receptors on their surface. This is known as being HER2-positive. Between 20 and 25 out of every 100 (20%–25% of) people with early breast cancer have HER2-positive breast cancer. A sample of your tumour (biopsy) will show if it’s HER2-positive. (Cancer Research UK. August 2016) However it is not known exactly how many breast cancers in men are HER2 positive.
In people who have early breast cancer and are HER2-positive, Herceptin may be used alongside or after other treatments.
Only a few of the men we interviewed had been given Herceptin. Getting or deciding whether to have Herceptin was not always straightforward.
Robert spent some time trying to weigh up whether he would gain sufficient benefit from Herceptin.
Interview 07 was told that his cancer wasn’t “serious enough” to warrant Herceptin but he was worried he had been refused on financial grounds.
Stuart had to fight for the right to be prescribed Herceptin because he is a man:
Stuart was initially told that the request that his oncologist made to treat him with Herceptin…
The decision was overturned after media publicity about Stuart’s case.
Stuart had to go through a difficult process, a few years earlier, to get Herceptin. His case…
Herceptin is given by a drip (infusion) through a fine tube (cannula) inserted into a vein. It is usually given in the outpatient department at the hospital. The first dose is given slowly, usually over about an hour and a half. After this, doses normally take about 30 minutes. After the first infusion people need to stay for a short time to make sure that they don’t have a reaction to the Herceptin. The recommended guidance for Herceptin states that it should be given once every three weeks for one year. Side effects are usually mild, but some people may have flu-like symptoms, diarrhoea, headaches or an allergic reaction.
Tom had no problem getting Herceptin and few side effects. He describes what it felt like to be…
Stuart describes what it was like to have Herceptin.
In a few people, Herceptin may cause damage to the heart muscle, which could lead to heart failure. If this happens the Herceptin may be stopped. Usually, the effect on the heart is mild and reversible. Because the long-term effects of any heart damage are not known, Herceptin is not given to people who have serious heart problems.