Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Select An Article

Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer

Font Size

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.

Recommended Related to Breast Cancer

When to Get a Screening Mammogram

Every year? Every other year? Not until you're 50? Once you turn 40? Will the real mammography screening recommendation please stand up? If you're a woman approaching the age of 40, you've likely been told to prepare for your first screening mammogram around the time of your big birthday and then to have one every year (in some cases, every other year) thereafter. (Of course, that's just for routine mammograms; breast lumps always require a mammogram and/or other tests to start diagnosing whether...

Read the When to Get a Screening Mammogram article > >

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.

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow