Herceptin Information

Herceptin has been making headlines across the country, but what do the results of these studies mean for women with breast cancer? Herceptin is a special biological "drug" that has been used for many years in metastatic (advanced) breast cancer. Herceptin now shows promise in treating a small proportion of patients with early breast cancer, but it is not for everyone.

Right now, CancerCare Manitoba is rapidly implementing access to Herceptin for all eligible women with early stage breast cancer, but there are many hurdles to overcome:

Below are some basic questions and answers about Herceptin to help you understand what the drug is and who can benefit.

What is HER-2?

HER-2 stands for Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2. It is a protein marker of a gene that controls how cells grow, divide and repair themselves and present on normal breast cells.

Why should HER-2 testing be done?

When a cell grossly "over expresses" or makes too much of the HER-2 protein, cells can grow faster and behave aggressively to pose a higher risk that this cancer may come back. This information can help plan your treatment.

How do they test for HER-2?

Breast tissue samples are routinely kept and stored after surgery for breast cancer. This tissue will be used for testing. Further surgery or blood tests are not needed.

Tissue will be tested using the IHC method. In a small number of samples the second test may also be used.

What does a positive result mean?

You are considered HER-2 positive if a large amount of the HER-2 protein is found in your tissue sample. Recent studies have shown that you may benefit from the drug Herceptin. An appointment with your Oncologist will be arranged to discuss if this treatment would be right for you.

How many women with breast cancer will be HER-2 positive?

Best estimates are about 1 out of 5 breast cancers, therefore, the majority (4 out of 5) have cancers with normal expression of HER-2.

What does a negative result mean?

You are considered HER-2 negative if you have normal amounts of HER-2 protein in your tissue sample. In this situation, Herceptin treatment would not be of any benefit to you, therefore Herceptin treatment would not be offered.

What is Herceptin?

Herceptin is a "targeted" therapy. This means it is a drug designed to work on a specific area (target) of a cancer cell to reduce the cancers ability to spread. It has been used for several years in women who have advanced or metastatic breast cancer who are HER-2 positive.

How is Herceptin given?

Herceptin is given through an intravenous needle into a vein in the hand or arm or into a venous access device such as a Port or PICC. The treatment takes 90 minutes and is given once every three weeks. The recommended treatment course is for one year.

Is Herceptin treatment available to me at no cost?

Yes, women who are HER-2 positive will receive Herceptin without cost to themselves.

What are the risks of taking Herceptin?

Herceptin can cause damage or weakening of the heart muscle. A MUGA scan is a test that provides information about how well the heart muscle is working. This test will be done at the beginning and every three months through the treatments to check that it is safe to continue.

What are the side effects of Herceptin treatment?

Herceptin can cause allergy-type side effects such as rash, fever, chills, muscle aches and nausea. Herceptin does not cause hair loss or lower white and red blood counts that happen with chemotherapy. A full list of side effects will be provided and discussed with all women who begin this treatment.

For further information about HER-2 testing or Herceptin, contact the CancerCare Manitoba Breast Cancer Centre of Hope at 788-8080 or toll free at 1-888-660-4866.