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The Reason For Using Targeted Therapies On Breast Cancer Patients

Targeted cancer therapies target a very specific feature of cancer cells. They are designed to focus on certain substances like a protein and not target the complete cancer cell. The protein could cause the cancer cell to grow rapidly or in a different way and the targeted therapies will key in on the protein and stop it from functioning. Targeted therapies will look at a specific function of the cancer cells and tackle it from that angle.

Targeted therapies may also seek to destroy the blood vessels supporting the cancer cells and block off the oxygen supply that provides nutrients to the cancer cells. Some targeted therapies work like antibodies, which are produced by the body’s immune system. Their function is to kill off foreign toxins that enter the body. When targeted therapies are antibodies they are also called immune targeted therapies.

There are several types of breast cancer treatments such as radiation, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Most of these breast cancer treatments cause damage to healthy cells as well as the breast cancer cells. Chemotherapy, for example, will destroy healthy cells all over the body. Chemotherapy is a systematic cancer treatment, meaning that the chemotherapy drugs will be sent to the bloodstream and thus affects all areas of the body.

Targeted therapies are focused upon what influences the cancer cell to grow and cut it off at its source. Targeted therapies attack the molecules of the specific cancer cells but not the rest of the body cells. Targeted therapies may be the only breast cancer treatment. More often than not, they are combined with other breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. Targeted therapies block the growth of new cancer cells and chemotherapy will kill the existing cancer cells.

Cancer cells divide and multiply in a disorderly fashion. They multiply much faster than new healthy cells do. When they do this, because there are so many of them, that they cluster together and often form a malignant tumor.

Doctors use three different targeted therapies for breast cancer patients



Herceptin (trastuzumab) is a targeted medication that works well pre and post breast cancer surgery in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. It is a proven hormonal drug, which can stave off the return of cancer cells after surgery. When cancer cell genes grow and multiply too quickly they are given the clinical term overexpression. When overexpressed cancer cells are the result of the genetic coding of the HER2 gene, Herceptin is used to target and block the HER2 gene receptor from receiving the HER2 gene. The HER2 gene receptors are the signals for the cancer cells to grow. Blocking this gene will slow down the growth of cancer. Herceptin will also alert the immune system to go in and destroy any cancer cell where HER2 has attached itself.

Side affects

Approximately 40 percent of breast cancer patients who take Herceptin will express flu-like symptoms, which include: fever, muscle aches, chills, and nausea. However, the side affects will usually subside after the first application and or when the dosage has been adjusted. If you are receiving this medication every three weeks, the side affects will be stronger.

Between five to 30 percent of patients will experience some kind of heart problem such as shortness of breath, and in a very small percentage there may be some more serious heart problems such as congestive heart failure and or stroke. These severe conditions are usually due to receiving both chemotherapy and Herceptin together.


Tykerb (lapatinib) also works on the HER2 receptors. The side effects of this drug are usually symptoms of fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. This drug may be discontinued if the diarrhea is too severe. Tykerb can cause mild heart problems but even that is very rare.

Avastin (bevacizumab) works for breast cancer patients who have not yet received chemotherapy and it works by blocking the new growth of blood vessels supporting the cancer cells. The side affects include, proteins in the urine, nosebleeds, and weakness. A small percentage of individuals experience blood clots, low white blood cell count, slow healing wounds, and are at a higher risk for heart or kidney problems. However, if Avastin is also given with chemotherapy drugs there would be those side affects to consider as well. Avastin will be discontinued if the symptoms are severe.

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