Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses medications to seek out cancer cells and destroy them. With breast cancer, medications such as trastuzumab, bevacizumab, or lapatinib modify the body's immune system to treat cancer.

A specific oncogene, human epidural growth factor receptor 2 (HER2/neu), is associated with nearly 30% of breast cancers. These cancers also have a tendency to be more aggressive. HER2 enhances the development and progression of certain types of breast cancer. Targeted therapy inhibits specific characteristics of cancer cells, such as blood vessel growth, which the tumor needs in order to grow.

Targeted therapies are used for early- and late-stage breast cancers

Side Effects and Management

Because these medications target cancer cells specifically, the side effects are not as severe as with chemotherapy drugs. Side effects may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash
  • Cough
  • Low blood counts, which can lead to anemia or neutropenia
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat—tachycardia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart failure
  • Heart muscle damage—cardiomyopathy
  • Your doctor will talk to you about the risks and benefits of targeted therapy treatment. A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. The earlier the side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.