Monoclonal Antibody Therapy-Herceptin and Avastin

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced substances that are directed against cancer cells. They can be used to deliver drugs, toxins or radioactive material directly to the cancer cells. Many monoclonal antibodies are used in cancer therapy. Each one recognizes a different protein on a variety of cancer cells.


Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is an antibody directed against the HER-2/neu receptor on the surface of the breast cancer cells of some patients. Not all cancers have this characteristic. HER-2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) is a gene that helps control how cells grow, divide and repair themselves.


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The HER-2 gene directs the production of special proteins, called HER-2 receptors. Because heart muscle cells also have the HER-2/neu receptor, trastuzumab can cause heart damage. It should be used cautiously when combined with other heart-damaging drugs such as anthracyclines (doxorubicin and epirubicin).

Trastuzumab is given to women whose breast cancers have tested positive for the HER-2/neu receptor and who have metastatic cancer (that has spread). It is used in combination with chemotherapy as adjuvant treatment in women with HER-2/neu breast cancers and who are node-positive (cancer found in the lymph nodes). It may be considered for women with node-negative (cancer not found in the lymph node) tumors greater than or equal to 1 centimeter.

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