Breast Cancer Home > Biological Therapy for Breast Cancer

Biological therapy for breast cancer consists of strengthening the immune system so that it can better fight cancer (and any potential side effects from your cancer treatment). One of the most common drugs used as a biological therapy for breast cancer is Herceptin. Common side effects associated with using Herceptin as a biological therapy for breast cancer include fever and chills; side effects tend to become milder after the first treatment.

Biological Therapy for Breast Cancer: An Overview

Your own immune system is your body's natural defense against diseases, including cancer. Your immune system also defends your body against infections and other side effects of cancer treatment. A strong immune system detects the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells, and it can get rid of those that become cancer.
The immune system can be strengthened and improved by new biological therapies. These treatments are designed to repair, stimulate, or increase your body's natural ability to fight infections and cancer.


Some women with breast cancer that has spread receive a biological therapy called Herceptin® (trastuzumab). It is a monoclonal antibody. It is made in the laboratory and binds to cancer cells.
Herceptin is given to women whose lab tests show that a breast tumor has too much of a specific protein known as HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor-2). By blocking HER2, Herceptin can slow or stop the growth of the cancer cells.
Herceptin is given through a vein. It may be given alone or with chemotherapy.

Possible Side Effects With Herceptin

The first time a woman receives Herceptin, the most common side effects are fever and chills. Some women also have pain, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, difficulty breathing, or rashes. Side effects usually become milder after the first treatment.
Herceptin also may cause heart damage, which can lead to heart failure. Herceptin can also affect the lungs, possibly causing breathing problems that require immediate medical treatment.
Before you receive Herceptin, your doctor will check your heart and lungs. During treatment, your doctor will watch for signs of lung or heart problems.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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