Cancer Schmancer…

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Breast Cancer Ribbon


HER2-positive breast cancer is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which promotes the growth of cancer cells. In about 1 of every 5 breast cancers, the cancer cells make an excess of HER2 due to a gene mutation. This gene mutation and the elevated levels of HER2 that it causes can occur in many types of cancer — not only breast cancer.

HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. They’re also less responsive to hormone treatment. However, treatments that specifically target HER2 are very effective. They include:

  • Trastuzumab (Herceptin). Trastuzumab, which specifically targets HER2, kills these cancer cells and decreases the risk of recurrence. Trastuzumab is often used with chemotherapy. But it may also be used alone or in combination with hormone-blocking medications, such as an aromatase inhibitor or tamoxifen. Trastuzumab is usually well tolerated, but it does have some potential side effects, such as congestive heart failure and allergic reaction.
  • Lapatinib (Tykerb). Like trastuzumab, lapatinib is a HER2-specific drug. Lapatinib may be effective for HER2-positive breast cancer that doesn’t respond to trastuzumab. Lapatinib is used in combination with the chemotherapy drug capecitabine (Xeloda) and the aromatase inhibitor letrozole (Femara). Lapatinib is also being studied in combination with trastuzumab.

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