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9. Targeted Therapy

This is a more recent type of therapy which has only been used widely over the last few years. The drugs work by blocking the different ways that breast cancer cells grow and develop. They are different to chemotherapy and hormone therapies. Herceptin® (trastuzumab) is the most well-known targeted therapy.

It works by blocking a protein (HER-2) that stimulates breast cancer cells to grow. Herceptin is given as an infusion in a drip into a vein in the hand or arm. You may have it on its own, at the time you are having chemotherapy (and continuing afterwards) or after chemotherapy has finished.

I have just started on Herceptin. How long will I be on it?

Each dose takes between 30 and 90 minutes to give, and you receive it in an outpatient department or day care unit every three weeks. The best length of time to be on Herceptin is not yet certain, but if you have primary breast cancer you will usually be on it for about a year.

Should I expect any side effects while I’m having Herceptin?

Herceptin is different to chemotherapy and does not cause sickness or hair loss. Common side effects include flu-like symptoms, such as fever and chills, nausea and diarrhoea. These are usually worst on the first or second infusions but improve over time. In very rare cases, Herceptin can affect the way your heart works, so the heart is monitored with regular scans throughout the treatment. This means that if you have any problems they can be spotted early on, and the treatment can be stopped if necessary to allow the heart to recover.

I’m not sure about Herceptin. Are there any other targeted cancer therapies?

New targeted therapies are being studied in clinical trials but at the time of writing they have not been licensed or approved for routine use within the United Kingdom and other European countries. More will probably be available to treat primary and secondary breast cancer within the coming months and years.

If the treatment for my breast cancer doesn’t work or my cancer comes back after my treatment, what happens then?

It will depend when and where the breast cancer comes back, but you will almost certainly be advised to have more treatment. This may be further surgery, another course of radiotherapy, more chemotherapy or a different type of hormone therapy. You may be

asked to try new treatments that are being assessed as part of a clinical trial.

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