This page discusses the use of biologic therapies for the treatment of breast cancer. For a thorough review of biologic therapies for cancer treatment, please see the
biologic therapies treatment monograph
Biologic Therapy (Immunotherapy)
Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to improve the way your body’s immune system fights disease. Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against disease. A healthy and strong immune system can detect the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells. Biological therapy attempts to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system so that it can fight the cancer more effectively. These therapies can be used to fight cancer or to lessen the side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments.
Monoclonal Antibodies (Herceptin)
For treatment of breast cancer, the most common type of immunotherapy is monoclonal antibody (MOAB) therapy, specifically trastuzumab (Herceptin). MOABs are laboratory-produced substances that are highly specific for a single target antigen.
Trastuzumab has been approved to treat metastatic breast cancer in women with tumors that produce excess amounts of a protein called HER2/neu. Approximately 25% to 30% of breast cancer tumors produce excess amounts of this protein. Tumors that produce excessive amounts of HER2/neu may spread more aggressively. Trastuzumab helps block cancer cell receptors.
Trastuzumab is given intravenously, usually in combination with chemotherapy or other agents. It is usually administered weekly or every 3 weeks.
Effectiveness of Trastuzumab
Trastuzumab has been shown to be effective by itself as an anticancer agent, although studies have demonstrated that it can increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy agents, such as adriamycin or taxanes, when used in combination. Studies are ongoing to see if trastuzumab increases the rates of cure in the treatment of early breast cancer.
Side Effects of Trastuzumab
Possible side effects of trastuzumab include the following:
Red, sore area where injection was given
Flu-like symptoms – fever, chills, weakness
Low blood pressure
Trastuzumab may cause an increased risk of cardiac toxicity when combined with anthracycline chemotherapy. Long-term use must be combined with monitoring of heart function.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a