Question: What can you tell me about Herceptin therapy? Is there really a risk of heart failure?
Answer: Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) is a medicine that is currently given to women with advanced breast cancer who have an overactive HER2/neu gene, found in about 25% of breast cancers. In clinical trials, Herceptin is also offered to women with positive lymph nodes and an abnormal HER2/neu gene.
Herceptin is considered an immune therapy because it imitates the way the body's own immune system fights cancer. It works like an antibody, a specialized protein that targets the misbehaving HER2/neu gene.
Early clinical trials found that some women had congestive heart failure after they took Herceptin together with a type of chemotherapy called Adriamycin (chemical name: doxorubicin). In congestive heart failure, the heart muscle weakens and is less able to effectively pump blood throughout the body. When Herceptin is given without Adriamycin, heart failure is rare, mild, and usually treated successfully. Herceptin is commonly given with other types of chemotherapy, without an added significant risk of heart problems. In addition, many women take Herceptin alone with a very low risk to the heart.
Bear in mind that breast cancer with abnormal HER2/neu genes tends to be aggressive. So, for women in this situation, the benefits of Herceptin may far outweigh the risks.
Read more about recent studies on Herceptin.