It is widely used in the treatment of certain types of breast cancers and more specifically, the breast cancers which are known to be HER-2 positive. HER-2 being a receptor in certain forms of breast cancer cells which are augmented by the manifestation of HER-2 gene would be the portal of action for Herceptin. When used, the drug would go and bind the HER-2 receptors which are awaiting HER-2 protein to get bound and stimulate the cells to grow further. While preventing growth signals being transmitted and damage the cancer cells, Herceptin is also known to alert the immune system regarding the destroyed cancer cells that it gets attached and thereby effectively cleans up the destroyed cell particles.
What needs to be considered before giving Herceptin?
First of all, the clinicians should make sure that the patient is actually suffering from HER-2 positive breast cancer. If not, the use of Herceptin would not do any good at all.
In general, the side effects of Herceptin are more when it is combined with other forms of chemotherapy. As such, if a person develops life threatening side effects of any kind, the clinicians would weigh the pros and cons of the treatment and would make a decision to stop or alter the treatment regime.
At the same time, knowing if the potential candidates are suffering from heart related disease, blood disorders…etc would also be useful prior to starting the treatment regime.
Let us now see some of the more serious side effects that can manifest with the use of Herceptin.
What are the serious side effects?
Herceptin has the potential to damage the heart muscles and therefore lead to symptoms pertaining to heart functioning. Although the effects are mild in most instances, life threatening heart failures can also manifest with the use of Herceptin in rare instances. Thus, manifestations such as shortness of breathing, chest pain, ankle edema, elevated jugular venous pressure, bluish discoloration of tongue and the peripheries due to poor oxygenation…etc are side effects which needs to be considered very serious.
Apart from the above, Herceptin can also give rise to problems related to the lungs and they would also manifest as breathing difficulties, chest discomfort…etc. The phenomenon is known as lung toxicity and would be characterized by swelling of the lung tissues and collection of fluids around the lungs.
Less commonly, there can be severe allergic reactions which gives rise to extensive itching, rashes, hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, lip and swelling related to face, tongue and throat tissues…etc.
If these symptoms occur, urgent medical attention needs to be given in order to relieve further manifestations.
What are the less serious side effects?
Many persons who are given Herceptin can develop mild manifestations such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other gastric disturbances. At the same time, development of headache, increasing cough, infections and fatigue is also being reported with the same.