Herceptin (trastuzumab)

  • Pharmacy Author:
    Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD

    Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.

  • Medical and Pharmacy Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What kind of drug is Herceptin (trastuzumab), and how does it work?

  • Herceptin is an intravenous drug that is part of a chemotherapy regimen that is used to prevent recurrence of breast cancer, and for the treatment breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast (metastasized).
  • It belongs to a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies. Other monoclonal antibodies include rituximab (Rituxan) and gemtuzumab ozogamicin (Mylotarg).
  • A cancer cell has various receptors on its surface. Chemicals bind to these receptors and cause changes within the cancer cell. One of the receptors that occurs in about one-third of all breast cancers is called HER2. HER2 is known to control the growth and development of the cancer cells, and the production of new cancer cells. If HER2 receptors are present in large numbers on the cancer cells (often referred to as overexpression of HER2), then the cancer cells may multiply and grow quickly. Normally, the immune system produces antibodies that will detect and attack HER2 receptors to slow the growth of cancer cells; however, if HER2 is present in large numbers, the immune system may be unable to control HER2. Trastuzumab is a man-made antibody developed using molecular cloning and recombinant DNA technology. Trastuzumab is thought to block the HER2 receptors when there is overexpression, thereby blocking growth of the cancer.

What brand names are available for trastuzumab?

  • Herceptin is the brand name available for trastuzumab in the US.

Is trastuzumab available as a generic drug?

  • No

Do I need a prescription for Herceptin (trastuzumab)?

  • Yes.

What are the uses for Herceptin (trastuzumab)?

  • Trastuzumab is used for preventing recurrence (adjuvant treatment) of HER2 overexpressing breast cancer.
  • It also is used for treatment of metastatic breast cancer, metastatic gastric, or gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma among patients who overexpress HER2.
  • It may be used alone or combined with other chemotherapy drugs.

What are the side effects of Herceptin (trastuzumab)?

BLACK BOX WARNING

  • Trastuzumab can cause heart failure, especially when it is combined with cyclophosphamide and anthracycline-containing chemotherapy regimens. Left ventricular function should be monitored prior to and during treatment.
  • It should be stopped in patients receiving adjuvant therapy, and withheld in patients with metastatic cancer if the function of the heart decreases significantly.

Herceptin (trasuzumab) side effects

Common side effects include:

Other side effects include:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/5/2017

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