Advances in cancer treatment have seen the development of medicines known as targeted or biological therapies which can help to slow the growth of cancer cells.
Herceptin is a targeted therapy which has been used in the treatment of people with HER2-positive early breast cancer.
Herceptin is registered for use in New Zealand and is publicly funded for a 12-month treatment programme for those with HER2-positive early breast cancer.
You can find out more about Herceptin on these pages. Herceptin is not suitable for everyone, so it’s important that you speak with your doctor about whether this medication may be right for you.
On these pages you can learn more about:
- How Herceptin Works
- How Herceptin May Help You
- How is Herceptin Given?
- The Side-Effects of Herceptin
- Accessing Herceptin
- Talking to Your Doctor About Whether Heceptin is Right for You
- Sources of Further Information
Everything You Need to Know About Herceptin
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Herceptin, also known as trastuzumab, is a treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer.
It works by attaching itself to the HER2 proteins on the cancer cells and blocking these cells from receiving growth signals. By doing this it can help to slow the growth of the tumour.
Herceptin is funded in New Zealand for a 12-month treatment programme for early breast cancer (eBC) and this is the recognised international standard of care.1,2
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Herceptin can be used in those with HER2-positive early breast cancer.
Studies have looked at how well Herceptin works in this group of people and there is now strong evidence of the effectiveness of a 12-month treatment programme of Herceptin in women with HER2-positive early breast cancer.3,4
These studies have demonstrated that 12-months of Herceptin treatment reduces the risk of cancer returning and offers women with HER2-positive early breast cancer the best chance of survival.
Studies looking at a shorter treatment duration of Herceptin have failed to show the same benefit as 12-months of treatment.2,5
This is why international guidelines recommend 12-months of Herceptin for early breast cancer and this is what is publicly funded in New Zealand.1,2
The results will not be the same for everyone. You will need to speak to your doctor about whether Herceptin is right for you.
Herceptin treatment is given as an IV infusion (drip into a vein) or can be given as a subcutaneous (beneath the skin) injection. Herceptin IV infusion is fully funded. Herceptin subcutaneous (SC) is currently not funded which means that patients need to pay for this medicine and associated private treatment costs themselves.
Herceptin is normally given once every 3 weeks. Treatment usually begins after surgery and either during or after chemotherapy. This usually takes place in the cancer department at a hospital or clinic. You may receive Herceptin by itself after you’ve had surgery and chemotherapy or in combination with other breast cancer treatments. Your doctor will decide which combination of treatments is best for you.
How Long will the Infusion Take?
The first infusion of Herceptin IV will generally be given over 90 minutes. Herceptin SC is given as an injection under the skin in the thigh over a 2 to 5 minute period.
After the infusion you will need to wait for a short time to make sure you don’t have a reaction to the Herceptin.
Your Subsequent Infusions
If the first infusion is well-tolerated, subsequent infusions will be given over 30 minutes.
The infusion may be slowed or interrupted if you experience side-effects or have an allergic reaction.
Herceptin SC is given as an injection under the skin in the thigh over a 2 to 5 minute period.
Herceptin is an effective treatment for patients with HER2-positive early breast cancer but it may have some unwanted side-effects in some people.
All medicines can have side-effects. Sometimes they are serious, most of the time they are not. You may need medical treatment if you get some of the side-effects.
Ask your medical team to answer any questions you may have.
Because Herceptin may be used with other medicines that treat breast cancer, it may be difficult for your doctor to tell whether the side-effects are due to Herceptin or due to the other medicines.
Your medical team is in the best position to help you manage any side-effects so be open with them about any symptoms you notice, whether you think they are caused by Herceptin or not.
For a full list of Herceptin side-effects, or if you want to find out more about Herceptin-related side effects, please look at the Herceptin Consumer Medicines Information. In the Consumer Medicines Information, look at:
Before you are given Herceptin, While you are receiving Herceptin, and Side Effects sections
Herceptin is publicly funded in New Zealand for the treatment of HER2-positive early breast cancer for 12 months of therapy.
Speak with your doctor about your specific case and the pros and cons of taking Herceptin. Remember, Herceptin is not right for everyone and your doctor will need to ask you a number of questions to see if it’s suitable for you.
You might like to use this list of questions to help you in your discussions with your doctor.
If you’d like more information on Herceptin, you might like to look at the following:
- The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation
- Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition
- Herceptin Consumer Medicines Information
Herceptin® (trastuzumab), 150mg and 440mg vials, is a Prescription Medicine used to treat patients with early breast cancer and metastatic (spreading) breast cancer who have tumours with a large amount of the HER2 protein. Herceptin has risks and benefits. Ask your Oncologist if Herceptin is right for you. Use strictly as directed. If symptoms continue or you have side effects, see your healthcare professional. For further information on Herceptin, please talk to your healthcare professional or visit www.medsafe.govt.nz for Herceptin Consumer Medicine Information. Herceptin is a funded medicine for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer who meet pre-defined criteria. A prescription charge and normal Doctor's fees may apply.
- National Comprehensive Cancer Network®. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Breast Cancer. Version 1.2015. Available from: http://www.nccn.org. Accessed February, 2016.
- Moja L, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012;4:CD006243.
- Slamon D, et al. N Engl J Med 2011;365:1273-83.
- Piccart-Gebhart MJ, et al. N Engl J Med 2005;353:1659-72.
- Pivot X, et al. Lancet Oncol 2013;14:741–48