As medical experts gain a more thorough understanding of how variations in cancer cells lead them to replicate uncontrollably, they formulate and design new medications that directly address these cellular variations. The purpose of these new targeted therapies is to inhibit the growth as well as their ability to spread throughout the body. Unlike standard chemotherapy medications, these targeted drugs do not indiscriminately mount a strike against all cells—healthy or malignant.

It has been shown that even in cases where chemotherapy agents prove ineffective, targeted agents can still be effective. A number of targeted therapies can also enhance the efficacy of other treatment methods while causing side effects that are dissimilar to those that come with chemotherapy.

HER2 Breast Cancer Treatments

In about 20% of all women with breast cancer, the malignant cells host an abundance of a protein referred to as HER2, a protein that supports cell growth. HER2-positive breast cancer is more hostile and fast-growing than other types of breast cancer. Today, the treatment of this type of breast cancer involves the use of targeted therapies or medications that destroy this particular protein.

There are a total of five FDA-approved targeted drugs used for the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer: trastuzumab, ado-trastuzumab emtansine, lapatinib, neratinib, and pertuzumab.


Classified as a monoclonal antibody (a synthetic form of an immune system enzyme), this medication is commonly used in conjunction with chemotherapy but may also be taken on its own. Trastuzumab is an intravenous drug that can be effective in treating both early-stage and advanced breast cancer.

Ado-trastuzumab emtansine

This monoclonal antibody is reserved for advanced breast cancer patients who have already undergone chemotherapy in combination with trastuzumab.


Classified as a kinase inhibitor, lapatinib is a once-daily oral medication used for the treatment of advanced breast cancer. It is sometimes used in conjunction with various chemotherapy drugs.


Another kinase inhibitor, neratinib is also a once-daily oral medication primarily reserved for women with early-stage breast cancer who have gone on trastuzumab for a year. Some studies reveal that this pill may also work for those with advanced breast cancer.


Also a monoclonal antibody, pertuzumab is taken in conjunction with trastuzumab as well as a course of chemotherapy. It may either be taken prior to surgery by those with early-stage breast cancer or for the treatment of stage IV breast cancer.

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