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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer

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Targeted therapy, also called biologic therapy, uses the body's immune system or hormonal system to fight breast cancer cells. That does less harm to healthy cells, so the side effects aren’t usually as bad as from better-known treatments like chemotherapy.

One type of targeted therapy uses antibodies to kill cancer cells or block them from growing. Antibodies are a part of the immune system made by special white blood cells. They can be made in a lab and given as medicine.

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Another type of this therapy uses drugs made of small molecules that block signals the cancer cells need to grow.

The type of targeted therapy your doctor might recommend depends on the type of breast cancer you have.

HER2-Positive Breast Cancer

A gene called HER2 makes too many copies of itself in about 20% of people with breast cancer. If you have that faulty version of the gene, your disease is called "HER2-positive."

Trastuzumab(Herceptin) is the standard treatment for this type of breast cancer. It's one example of a lab-made antibody. Experts think it stops cancer cells from growing in three ways:

  1. It sticks to certain areas on cancer cells, stopping them from growing.
  2. It signals the body's immune system to attack cancer cells.
  3. It can help chemotherapy work better for you.

Trastuzumab treats this type of breast cancer either alone or alone with chemotherapy drugs. Doctors commonly use it with drugs known as taxanes: docetaxel (Docefrez , Taxotere) and paclitaxel (Abraxane, Onxol).

Pertuzumab (Perjeta) is another antibody that treats HER2-positive breast cancer. Doctors use it along with docetaxel and trastuzumab. Pertuzumab may be harmful to a fetus, so women who are pregnant shouldn’t take it.

Another medication, ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla), combines the antibody in trastuzumab with a chemotherapy drug. Doctors give it to people with HER2-positive, advanced breast cancer who were already treated with trastuzumab.

One possible drawback of antibody treatment is that you generally need to get it as a shot.

Lapatinib(Tykerb) is an example of a small-molecule drug that you can take in a pill. It's used together with chemotherapy to treat some advanced cases of HER2-positive breast cancer. Doctors often use it when other cancer medications haven't worked for someone.

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