Perjeta (chemical name: pertuzumab) used in combination with Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab), another targeted therapy medicine, and Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel), a type of chemotherapy, to treat HER2-positive, metastatic breast cancer that hasn’t been treated with either Herceptin or chemotherapy yet. Perjeta was called Omnitarg in earlier studies.
Perjeta also is approved:
- to be used in combination with Herceptin and Taxotere before surgery to treat HER2-positive, early-stage (the cancer must be larger than 2 cm or cancer must be in the lymph nodes), inflammatory, or locally advanced-stage breast cancer with a high risk of metastasizing or becoming fatal
- to be used in combination with Herceptin and chemotherapy after surgery to treat HER2-positive, early-stage breast cancer with a high risk of recurrence
Learn more about:
- How Perjeta works
- Is Perjeta right for you?
- What to expect when taking Perjeta
- Paying for Perjeta
- Perjeta side effects
How Perjeta works
Cancer cells grow in an uncontrolled fashion. Perjeta works on the surface of the cancer cell by blocking the chemical signals that can stimulate this uncontrolled growth.
Genes are like instruction manuals that tell each cell of our body how to grow, what kind of cell to become, and how to behave. Genes do this by ordering the cell to make special proteins that cause a certain activity — such as cell growth, rest, or repair.
Some cancer cells have abnormalities in genes that tell the cell how much and how fast to grow. Sometimes the cancer cells have too many copies of these genes with abnormalities. When there are too many copies of these genes, doctors refer to it as "overexpression." With some forms of gene overexpression, cancer cells will make too many of the proteins that control cell growth and division, causing the cancer to grow and spread.
Some breast cancer cells make (overexpress) too many copies of a particular gene known as HER2. The HER2 gene makes a protein known as a HER2 receptor. HER2 receptors are like ears, or antennae, on the surface of all cells. These HER2 receptors receive signals that stimulate the cell to grow and multiply. But breast cancer cells with too many HER2 receptors can pick up too many growth signals and so start growing and multiplying too much and too fast. Breast cancer cells that overexpress the HER2 gene are said to be HER2-positive.
Like Herceptin, Perjeta is a HER2 inhibitor targeted therapy that works by attaching itself to the HER2 receptors on the surface of breast cancer cells and blocking them from receiving growth signals. Perjeta targets a different area on the HER2 receptor than Herceptin does, so it’s believed to work in a way that is complementary to Herceptin. By blocking the signals, Perjeta can slow or stop the growth of the breast cancer. Perjeta and Herceptin are examples of immune targeted therapy.
In addition to blocking HER2 receptors, Perjeta can also help fight breast cancer by alerting the immune system to destroy cancer cells onto which it is attached.
Is Perjeta right for you?
There are several tests used to find out if breast cancer is HER2-positive. Two of the most common tests are:
The IHC test uses a chemical dye to stain the HER2 proteins. The IHC gives a score of 0 to 3+ that measures the amount of HER2 proteins on the surface of cells in a breast cancer tissue sample. If the score is 0 to 1+, it’s considered HER2-negative. If the score is 2+, it's considered borderline. A score of 3+ is considered HER2-positive.
If the IHC test results are borderline, it’s likely that a FISH test will be done on a sample of the cancer tissue to determine if the cancer is HER2-positive.
FISH (Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization)
The FISH test uses special labels that are attached to the HER2 proteins. The special labels have chemicals added to them so they change color and glow in the dark when they attach to the HER2 proteins. This test is the most accurate, but it is more expensive and takes longer to return results. This is why an IHC test is usually the first test done to see if a cancer is HER2-positive. With the FISH test, you get a score of either positive or negative (some hospitals call a negative test result “zero”).
Learn more about HER2 status.
What to expect when taking Perjeta
Perjeta is prescribed with Herceptin, another targeted therapy medicine, and chemotherapy. All these medicines are given intravenously, which means they’re delivered directly into your bloodstream through an IV or a port.
The first dose of Perjeta is the largest and takes about an hour to complete. After that, it takes 30 to 60 minutes to get Perjeta, which is usually given every 3 weeks in a doctor’s office. Most people get Perjeta every 3 weeks for 18 to 25 months.
Women who are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant should not be given Perjeta. Perjeta can cause embryo death and birth defects. It’s important that you don’t get pregnant while you’re getting Perjeta; you must use effective birth control.
Paying for Perjeta
If your doctor prescribes Perjeta and you have any problems getting it covered by insurance or don’t have insurance, you can get in touch with Access Solutions, sponsored by Genentech (the maker of Perjeta). Access Solutions can help investigate your insurance coverage benefits, appeal denied claims, and provide other assistance. You also can call Access Solutions at 1-866-422-2377.
Perjeta side effects
The most common side effects of Perjeta are:
- hair loss
- low white blood cell count (neutropenia)
- peripheral neuropathy (numbness, tingling or burning in the hands and feet)
Because Perjeta is likely to be given with Herceptin, it’s important to know that problems with heart function or developing heart failure can sometimes be side effects of Herceptin. While research has found that adding Perjeta to Herceptin doesn’t increase the risk of heart problems, your doctor will likely want to test your heart function before and during treatment with Perjeta, Herceptin, and chemotherapy.
- Perjeta (pertuzumab) prescribing information. Genentech. San Francisco, CA. 2018. Available at: https://www.gene.com/download/pdf/perjeta_prescribing.pdf.