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Herceptin Treatment - How to Survive Treatment With Herceptin

Jul 12, 2008
Herceptin Treatment is a fairly new treatment for breast cancer. It was originally licensed for women who had some form of meteastatic breast cancer spread but a little over two years ago it was licensed to be used on any woman with early stage breast cancer. For me this was amazing timing as I had just had a mastectomy and it was discovered that the tumour I had was HER-2 positive. This is the only type of tumor suitable for herceptin treatment.

So, it was organized that after chemotherapy and radiotherapy I would have seventeen Herceptin treatments at three weekly intervals. To be honest after all the other treatments I was tired and weary. However, I was aware of how important this treatment was and decided to give it my all!

Herceptin works by interfering in the way which breast cancer cells divide and grow. Some breast cancer cells divide and grow when a protein that naturally occurs in the body attaches itself to another protein known as HER2, which is found on the surface of the breast cancer cells.

Herceptin blocks this process by attaching itself to the HER2 protein so that the growth factor cannot reach the breast cancer cells. This stops the cells from dividing and growing.

Herceptin only works in people who have high levels of the HER2 protein. It appears to have little effect in those who do not. Approximately one in five breast cancer patients are HER-2 positive

The reasoning behind giving Herceptin over seventeen treatments is that the timescale from diagnosis to the end of Herceptin is approximately eighteen months ... and eighteen months is the most likely time for the tumour to return, or metastic spread to occur - clever don't you think!

During my treatments - which I got at home- I felt tired but not the dreaded near death tiredness of chemotherapy, and it only lasted a few days. That said there was a build up effect and nearing the end of it I did feel pretty ropey a lot of the time. My biggest problem with Herceptin was cannulation. Having had Epirubicin as one of my chemo drugs my veins in my hand and arm were hard and near impossible to cannulate.

The nurses could only use one arm because my lymph nodes had been removed on the other side during the mastectomy and no cannulations or injections should be done on that side to try to prevent infection. The poor nurses! Me a quivering wreck and no veins to be seen. It did cause me a lot of stress but they managed it every time. Virtually no cancer centres in the UK use portacaths - which are the commonest approach to this problem elsewhere in the world.

I was quite lucky not to have experienced too many side effects during my herceptin treatment. I did experience diarrhoea but while this is unpleasant, it's manageable. Forward planning about location of toilets and Imodium in your handbag!

Flu like symptoms are also common following administration of the drug.

One of the more serious herceptin side effects is a reduction in heart function. To monitor this it's normal to have an injection fraction scan every three months to determine if any damage has been done. These scans terrified me at first as I didn't want anything to interrupt my treatments but I needn't have worried as my heart function improved on Herceptin. Trust me to be different!

People can also experience allergic reactions and this is the reason the first two treatments are usually given in hospital.

My message to anybody out there who is embarking on Herceptin treatment is it's not as bad as chemotherapy, it truly is life saving and it will be over before you know it! Stick with it and see it through. It's tough but you'll be glad you did once it's over.
About the Author
Marjory Ramsay is a nurse and mother in Edinburgh. She has blogged about her breast cancer treatment experiences in the hope that others might find help or comfort. You can read her breast cancer survivor story and about the symptoms of breast cancer by following these links.
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