HER2 Positive Breast Cancer

HER2 positive breast cancer is a type of breast cancer which tests positive for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)—a protein that promotes cancer cell growth. In 1 out of every 5 breast cancers, the cancer cells make excessive HER2 because of gene mutation. Knowing about the testing process and treatment options for HER2 positive breast cancer ahead of time can help you better cope with the condition.

Test for HER2 Positive Breast Cancer

When you have had a lumpectomy, you are usually tested for HER2 proteins. Generally speaking every breast cancer patient is tested for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). The test result makes it easier for the doctor to determine what treatments are best for you. If cancer returns after the person has undergone treatment then those HER2 levels are checked again. It may then be decided that another biopsy is in order.

Treatments for HER2 Positive Breast Cancer

The physician will consider the following factors to determine the treatment needed:

  • What stage the cancer is in (the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to other body parts)
  • What grade the cancer is at (how fast are the cells growing)
  • If the cancer has estrogen receptors (If it does, it is a prime candidate for hormone therapy)

There are specific treatments that target only HER2 cancers. This is because HER2 tends to be much more aggressive than other types and will be less receptive to hormone therapy. This is a list of those therapies.

1. Trastuzumab (Herceptin)

This treatment kills cancer cells and also reduces risks of recurrence by especially targeting HER2. It can be used in accordance with chemo therapy or alone with hormone blockers like Aromatase inhibitor or Tamoxifan. Herceptin is normally tolerable but can cause congestive heart failure or allergic reaction in some patients.

Watch a video to understand how Herceptin works for HER2 positive breast cancer:

2. Lapatinib (Tykerb)

This drug is HER2 specific. It is used as a treatment for those that don’t respond to Trastuzumab treatment. It is used with the chemotherapy drug Xeloda. This treatment also has congestive heart failure as a possible side effect as well as diarrhea and rash.

3. Surgery

There are three choices for surgery. Depending on the patient’s individual situation—the choices are as follows:

Lumpectomy which is the breast-conserving therapy when the mass itself is extracted along with some of the tissue and maybe a lymph node or two are analyzed. The second choice is the mastectomy. This is done when the cancer is metastasized or if the woman has breasts that are smaller in proportion to the tumor. The third option is removing lymph nodes and examining for metastases (cancer spread).

4. Chemotherapy

This is a therapy that destroys cancer cells. It can be used after a lumpectomy and is usually given together with Herceptin to prevent recurrence. It can be given in this combination before surgery as well. Women with HER2 positive breast cancer are usually treated with chemotherapy drugs known as either anthracylines or taxanes.

5. Radiotherapy

This treatment uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It is also used to relieve pain on patients with advancing cancers and to prevent cancer coming back.

6. Hormonal therapy

This is for types of cancer with estrogen receptors. This will block the estrogen from attaching to the cells and feeding them or will lower the production of estrogen.

Watch a video for more information on HER2 and treatment:

 
 
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