Targeted therapy for breast cancer

Targeted therapy uses drugs that work in a different way to chemotherapy drugs. While chemotherapy affects all rapidly dividing cells, targeted therapy attacks specific targets inside cancer cells.

The targeted therapy drugs that are currently available do not work for all types of breast cancer. They are useful only for breast cancers that are growing in response to the HER2 protein. These HER2 positive breast cancers make up about 15−20% of all breast cancers. For early or locally advanced breast cancer in both women and men, the main targeted therapy drug is trastuzumab (brand name Herceptin). Other drugs are available for advanced breast cancer.

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How Herceptin works

Trastuzumab is usually referred to by the brand name Herceptin. This targeted therapy works by attaching itself to HER2 positive breast cancer cells, destroying the cells or reducing their ability to divide and grow. Herceptin also encourages the body’s own immune cells to help destroy the cancer cells.

Herceptin is used together with chemotherapy. It has been shown to increase the effect of chemotherapy drugs on early breast cancer. Some people receive Herceptin as an injection, but others are given it via a drip into a vein (infusion). You will usually have a dose every three weeks, although some people may have weekly doses.

The first infusion will take up to 90 minutes. This is called the loading dose. The following infusions take 30–60 minutes each, and they will continue for up to 12 months. The first four doses are given while you are having chemotherapy treatment.


Side effects of Herceptin

Your medical team will monitor you for side effects. Often these will be caused by the chemotherapy. This means that once chemotherapy finishes and you are continuing with Herceptin for another nine months, most side effects ease. For example, hair grows back, there is no nausea or vomiting, and you no longer need regular blood tests.

Although side effects from the Herceptin itself are uncommon, they can include fever, diarrhoea, headache and a rash. In some people, Herceptin can affect how the heart works, so you will have tests to check your heart function before and during treatment. Ask your doctor for more information about these tests.


Video: What are immunotherapy and targeted therapy?

Watch this short video to learn more about targeted and immunotherapy


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    Understanding Targeted Therapy

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To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

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  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

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  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in August 2018
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Targeted therapy
Learn more about targeted therapy, a treatment offered to some people with cancer.

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