About Herceptin

This section focuses on a specific type of stomach cancer known as HER2-positive stomach cancer. We may not have mentioned the type of stomach cancer that you have.

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 metastatic or advanced stomach cancer.

Herceptin is registered for use in New Zealand, but it is not publicly funded for stomach cancer which means you have to pay for it.

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:

What is Herceptin?

Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab) is used to treat people with HER2-positive advanced or metastatic stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer.

Herceptin only works for people with stomach cancer that features high levels of the HER2 protein.

About 20% of stomach cancer cases are HER2-positive. Tests done during your biopsy will confirm whether your cancer cells have high levels of the HER2 protein.

Herceptin works by attaching to the HER2 proteins on the surface of the cancer cells. It attacks these cells and this helps to stop the cancer cells from dividing and growing.

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How Can Herceptin Help Me?

Survival rates for patients diagnosed with gastric cancer are poor.1

Studies have looked at the effectiveness of Herceptin in people with HER2-positive advanced stomach cancer.

They show that patients with cancers that expressed the highest levels of the HER2 protein who were given Herceptin lived around 4 months longer than patients who received chemotherapy alone (16 months compared to 11.8 months). 2

Importantly, for patients being treated for metastatic disease, adding Herceptin to chemotherapy did not impact the patients ability to continue normal daily activities compared to chemotherapy alone.3

Remember the results will not be the same for everyone. You will need to speak to your doctor about whether Herceptin is right for you.

How is Herceptin Given?

Herceptin treatment is given as an IV infusion (a drip into a vein) and treatment usually starts after you’ve had surgery and chemotherapy. Herceptin is normally given once every 3 weeks. This usually takes place in the cancer department at a hospital or private treatment clinic.

You may receive Herceptin by itself or in combination with other cancer treatments. Your oncologist will decide which combination of treatments is best for you.

How Long will the Infusion Take?

The first infusion of Herceptin will generally be given over 90 minutes.

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.

Side-Effects of Herceptin

Herceptin helps control the growth and spread of HER2 + advanced stomach 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 stomach 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

How do I get Herceptin?

Herceptin is not publicly funded for people with advanced HER2-positive stomach cancer. This means you will have to pay for this medication.

This is a big decision and will obviously have an impact on you and your loved ones. You’ll want to discuss this with your friends and family and you may want to explore other funding options, such as health insurance or fundraising programmes.

The exact cost of treatment with Herceptin depends on a number of factors and a private oncologist will need to advise you on this.

You may also need to pay for other treatments such as chemotherapy. Your oncologist appointments and costs associated with administering the treatments will also need to be paid for.

Once you know your HER2 status, you can discuss with your doctor whether Herceptin is right for you.

The cost of Herceptin may play a big part in whether or not you decide to have this treatment. Be sure to discuss all the pros and cons with your doctor. You might like to use this list of questions to help you in your discussions with your doctor.

Roche’s Cost Share Programme for Herceptin

Roche has a cost share programme to help with the cost of Herceptin for those with advanced HER2-positive stomach cancer. Find out more here.

Talking to Your Doctor About Whether Herceptin is Right for You

Deciding whether to pay for treatment is a big decision and it’s one that requires careful thought.

Herceptin is not a cure, but it may give you more time before your cancer grows and spreads. For many people, Herceptin may be able to offer a few extra months and for others it may be able to offer more.

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.

If you’re not sure how to have this discussion with your doctor, we’ve developed a list of common questions which might help you. Have a look at these here.

If you’re considering Herceptin and you want to want to know more about private providers, you can check out a list here.

Sources of Further Information

If you’d like more information about gastric cancer or Herceptin you can look at the following:


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Helpful questions
to ask your doctor
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Medsafe NZ Consumer
Information for Herceptin
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Herceptin® (trastuzumab), 150mg and 440mg vials, is a Prescription Medicine used to treat patients with metastatic (spreading) cancer of the stomach who have tumours with a large amount of the HER2 protein. Stomach cancer is also known as gastric cancer. 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 not funded by PHARMAC for the treatment of HER2-positive gastric cancer. You will need to pay the full cost of this medicine. A prescription charge and normal oncologist's fees may apply.

References:
  1. Cancer Research UK. Stomach cancer survival statistics. Available from: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/stomach-cancer-survival-statistics#heading-Zero. Accessed February 2016.
  2. Bang YJ, et al. Lancet 2010;376:687-697.