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HER2-Positive Breast Cancer



It's important to find out if your breast cancer is HER2-positive, because it makes a difference in how you treat it.

HER2-positive cancer doesn't respond well to hormone treatment used for some breast cancers, but there are drugs that target the HER2 protein and greatly lower the risk of the cancer coming back. These drugs aim to kill cancer cells without killing healthy cells. They are called targeted treatments, and in the case in of HER2-positive cancer, they stop or block the HER2 protein from helping cancer cells to grow.

Herceptin (trastuzumab) is usually the first treatment your doctor will recommend. It's often followed by surgery and chemotherapy.

Herceptin itself has far fewer immediate side effects than chemotherapy. There is usually no nausea or hair loss. In rare cases, there may be heart or lung problems. Talk to your doctor about side effects. Scientists are still studying how long women should take Herceptin to get the most benefit. 

Tykerb (lapatinib) may be an option if Herceptin doesn't work. It's given to women whose breast cancer has spread. Possible side effects include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, rash and fatigue, and in rare cases, liver and lung problems.

Kadcyla (trastuzumab emtansine) is a combination of Herceptin and a chemotherapy. It's given to women who've already taken Herceptin and chemotherapy, and whose breast cancer has spread. Possible side effects include nausea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, low white blood cell count, headache and constipation, and in rare cases, heart and liver problems. 

Perjeta is an IV treatment that's been approved for late-stage HER2-positive breast cancer. It's given to women who haven't yet taken other drugs to treat their cancer. In one study, women who took Perjeta along with Herceptin lived longer. Possible side effects include diarrhea, rash, mouth sores, low white blood cell count, and dry skin. 

Taking Care of Yourself

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can make you feel like everything is out of control. Remember that you're in control of your treatment decisions and how you live your life.

These tips can help you stay healthy while you get treatment:

  • Get the support you need, whether it's information about breast cancer, talking with someone, or practical help with daily tasks. It can all make a huge difference in how you feel. The people in your life will want to help, so let them know what you would like.
  • Listen to your body. Exercise can help you feel better, but only when you're up for it.
  • If you don’t have much appetite, try eating smaller meals every few hours, rather than big meals.


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