Biological therapy uses the body's own immune system to target and fight breast cancer cells.
One such antibody is Herceptin, a monoclonal (meaning single) antibody. An antibody is a protein made by the body's own immune system. Herceptin is a manmade antibody that can work only if the woman carries and overexpresses the HER2 protein in those tumor cells. About 25% of breast cancer patients carry this gene and are considered HER2 positive. Your doctor should check this on your breast biopsy or on the tumor removed during surgery.
"You have breast cancer."
This year, nearly 250,000 women in the U.S. will hear those words.
Last year, Zunilda Guzman was one of them.
"I was devastated," says Guzman, 39. "I wanted the world to end."
But Guzman, mother to a 9-year-old daughter, knew she couldn't let that happen. And neither did any of the other nine breast cancer survivors interviewed by WebMD as part of a special project for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
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Perjeta (pertuzumab) is another monoclonal antibody approved for treatment of HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer or for patients who need neo-adjuvant treatment (treatment before surgery). It is approved for use in combination with Herceptin and the chemotherapy Taxotere.
Another drug for patients with HER2 positive disease is Tykerb (lapatinib). It works in HER2-positive patients when Herceptin is no longer effective. It is used in combination with Xeloda, Femara, or Herceptin.
Kadcyla (ado-trastuzumab emtansine) is a drug used in patients who have metastatic disease and have already taken Herceptin and a class of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes, which are commonly used to treat breast cancer. These drugs may have been used together or separately.
Other types of antibodies are being researched to fight cancer and include:
Angiogenesis inhibitors. These antibodies prevent the growth of new blood vessels, cutting off the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cancer cells. However, the only such drug used for breast cancer, bevacizumab, lost its FDA approval for breastcancer because the drug's risks outweighed its benefits and it didn't improve the overall survival of breast cancer patients.
Signal transduction inhibitors. These antibodies block signals inside the cancer cell that helps the cells divide, stopping the cancer from growing. They are currently being studied to see if they're effective.
Before treatment begins, print out these Questions to Ask to help you better understand your care.