How Does Herceptin Work?

Herceptin® (trastuzumab) is a prescription medication used for the treatment of breast cancer and stomach cancer in adults. But how does Herceptin work to treat these types of cancer?
Herceptin belongs to a class of medications known as monoclonal antibodies and is designed to bind to a specific protein (called HER2) on the outside of certain cancer cells. When Herceptin binds to these proteins, it prevents the cancer cells from growing and multiplying. This medication can also signal the immune system to destroy the cancer cells. Herceptin is not a type of chemotherapy and is, therefore, not as "toxic" as chemotherapy because it has less of an effect on healthy, noncancerous cells.
Herceptin is only used to treat cancers that have a high concentration of HER2 receptors. Before the medication can be prescribed, certain tests must be performed to make sure that the tumor "overexpresses" HER2. Not all cancers overexpress HER2, and not all people with cancer will benefit from Herceptin.
(For a closer look at how this drug works, click Herceptin. This article tells you what you need to know before starting treatment with this medicine, including helpful dosing tips, potential side effects, and more.)
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