Medical Technology

How Chemotherapy with Trastuzumab Fights Cancer

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"How Chemotherapy with Trastuzumab Fights Cancer"
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Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals to treat or control disease. It is most often associated with cancer, but has other uses as well.

Trastuzumab is one of the most common drugs used in chemotherapy. It is used to treat breast cancer, tumors in the stomach and esophagus. It is part of a newer form of chemotherapy that is called a monoclonal antibody.  Most chemotherapy works by killing rapidly dividing cells in the body. It does not discriminate between cancer cells and other rapidly dividing cells.

With monoclonal antibodies, they are targeting a specific type of cell. Trastuzumab finds and binds with the human epidermal growth factor receptor2 or HER2 protein. Approximately 25 to 30% of breast cancer cells have HER2  receptors on the outer surface of the cell.

This receptor is what signals the cell to divide and multiply.  Trastuzumab attaches to these receptors. It blocks the signal that tells the cell to divide and grow.

The drug slows down and sometimes completely stops the growth of cancer cells that have active HER2 in them.  The major benefit of using this drug is that it does not interfere with other rapidly dividing cells. What are some of those other rapidly dividing cells? They are cells that include skin, hair, fingernails, gastrointestinal cells, reproductive cells, cells that produce blood and bone marrow cells.

The method of delivering trastusumab is through a process called chemotherapy infusion. The cancer drugs are combined with saline and perhaps other medications given intravenously. The first time a patient is receiving this medication it is delivered in a very slow drip.  This is done to make certain that any allergic reactions or  reactions at the site where the IV is inserted can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Typically this first chemotherapy treatment will take about 90 minutes.

All the cells in the body are being exposed to the solution since it enters the body through the bloodstream.  There will be  a  complete blood count test given before the treatment.  This gives the oncologist specific information about the number of white blood cells and the number of red blood cells.  

The same test will be given after the treatment to see if the doctor needs to administer booster shots for a healthier blood count.

The Huntsman Cancer Institute has an excellent on line presentation that gives an overview of how chemotherapy is administered and things to consider when making decisions about the therapy.

Chemotherapy may not be the best choice for everyone.  However with trastusumab as on option, it seems like a viable and wise decision for many.

More about this author: Trenna Sue Hiler

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