Trastuzumab (Herceptin)

Warning: This medication can cause serious heart problems, especially if you are taking anthracycline. The risk for heart problems is greater for elderly patients using Trastuzumab. This medication can sometimes also be fatal to an unborn baby if used during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about the risks if you are pregnant. In some cases, the benefits of taking Trastuzumab may outweigh the risks so discuss in depth with your doctor.

Indications: This medication is used alone or with other medicines to treat certain types of breast cancer. It is also sometimes used to treat cancer of the stomach. Trastuzumab works by killing cancer cells and attaching to cancer cells to stop them from growing and dividing.

Dosage: This medicine is given intravenously by a health care professional. It is usually given once a week or once every few weeks depending on they type of cancer you are being treated for.  The medicine is usually given over a period of 90 minutes by IV drip.  Your doctor will determine the exact dosage for this medicine by weighing you, going over your medical condition and seeing how you respond to therapy. To help ease potential common side effects such as nausea and body aches, your doctor may also prescribe anti-nausea medications or anti-inflammatory medicines.

Overdose: overdosing Trastuzumab can be fatal. An overdose of Trastuzumab can result in a decrease in white blood cells and platelets, which can cause serious or life threatening health problems in some patients. In addition, Trastuzumab overdose can also lead to kidney problems and/or severe heart problems. Therefore, avoid anything that can weaken your immune system and the risk of infection. During the treatment, keep all appointments with your doctor and laboratory. Tell your doctor about all abnormal symptoms you experience.

Contraindications:   It’s vital to tell your doctor your complete medical history especially if you have had other cancers and other types of cancer treatments. Also let your doctor know if you have any infections or reoccurring viruses such has herpes or shingles. Tell your doctor or pharmacist what medications you are allergic to or if you have any other allergies.  Do not have immunizations or vaccines while taking this medication unless approved by your doctor.  This medicine can cause dizziness so do not drive a vehicle unless you are alert.  This medication could cause harm to a fetus so do not use during pregnancy.  It’s important to take birth control while taking this medication if you are of a childbearing age.  Since it is not known if this medicine is passed through breast milk, do not breastfeed while taking Trastuzumab.

Mechanism of action (MOA): Trastuzumab is a human IgG 1 type monoclonal antibody directed against the receptor 2 epidermal growth factor (HER2). It works by inhibiting or stopping the growth of cancer cells that overexpress HER2.

Interactions: It is important to tell your doctor the medications you are taking before you begin Trastuzumab.  Tell your doctor if you are taking any prescription, nonprescription or herbal medicines. Your doctor will be able to check for potential interactions they may have with this medication. Certain medicines that can affect this medication are other anti-cancer drugs, drugs that control blood pressure, immunizations and drugs that affect your immune system. Always carry a list of all your medications so you can give it to your doctor or pharmacist to check for interactions.

Side effects: while attacking cancer cells, Trastuzumab also affects healthy cells, which cause adverse effects in most patients. Common Trastuzumab side effects include:

  • hair loss
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty sleeping
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • infusion reactions
  • increased cough
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • rash
  • low white and red blood cells
  • Muscle pain

If the side effects above persist for weeks, contact your oncologist. In addition, contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • nose bleeding
  • fast or irregular heart beat
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • intense head ache
  • depression
  • wheezing
  • feeling of constriction of the throat
  • swelling of feet or lower legs
  • painful or difficult urination which contain blood
  • Pain in lower back or in the side, accompanied by fever or chills

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