HER-2 Gene: This Aggressive Breast Cancer Requires Targeted Treatment

Breast Cancer
Print icon

Click here for a callback from a breast health nurse navigator.

All breast cancers are not structured, and therefore not treated, the same, which is why doctors test tissue removed during biopsies to determine the type and stage of the disease.

All tissue is also tested for what is called the HER-2 gene, according to Dr. Stacy Nerenstone, a breast oncologist with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute who is particularly interested in treating patients who test positive for what is a more aggressive form of breast cancer.

“HER-2 positive breast cancer affects 15 percent of patients,” she said. “Women with both early- and later-stage disease need to be treated with an agent that is directly targeted to that genetic marker.”

She added that all but the very smallest tumors need to be treated with chemotherapy as well as the HER-2 directed agents. Patients who have larger tumors (measuring more than 2 cm) or positive lymph nodes under their arm at the time of diagnosis may be offered this type of treatment before surgery.

“We treat these patients differently as HER-2 positivity is associated with much more rapidly growing cancers,” Dr. Nerenstone said. “Ironically, however, these patients also almost always respond to the chemotherapy as well as the treatment directed at the HER-2 marker.”

She noted a “very exciting” study released recently shows that when HER-2 targeted treatment is given before surgery, the patient’s response can be analyzed at the time of surgery.

“For patients who have no residual disease, Herceptin, which targets the HER-2 marker, can be given with or without the newer drug Perjeta to complete a year of treatment,” she said. “However, for patients with cancer that has persisted, we can improve the current rates by 50 percent by giving one of the newer HER-2 targeting agents such as Kadcyla to complete a year of treatment.”

The latter drug – which also has a generic form called Ado-trastuzumab emtansine, is an antibody drug combination of Trastuzumab and the cytotoxic agent Emtansine. It can be given to patients for a complete year of treatment, Dr. Nerenstone explained.

“It’s wonderful to have the option of knowing earlier if a patient is responding as we hope, or if we need to regroup with another approach. It improves a patient’s chance of ridding themselves of the disease,” she said.

Click here for a callback from a breast health nurse navigator.

For more information on breast cancer treatment at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, click here.



What's New

Bliss Beam-Signing

Beam-Signing Marks Progress of Hartford Hospital Expansion

HARTFORD—With COVID-19 cases rising in other parts of the country and an increasing need for critical care beds in hotspots like Florida and Arizona, Hartford HealthCare marked a milestone July 10 that will help the health system be even more prepared for future outbreaks in Connecticut. Hartford HealthCare and Hartford...

Fecal transplant

COVID-19 Weight-Gain Assessment: BMI vs. Body Fat vs. Waistline

For three months, Connecticut gyms were closed and people spent more time inside their homes, with “quarantine baking” a popular pandemic pastime. Sales of candy, carbohydrate-rich foods and alcohol soared since stay-at-home orders were issued at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. While many people joke about putting on the...

Mobile Testing

Hartford HealthCare Hits 100,000 Tests, Highlighting Critical COVID-19 Tool

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages elsewhere in the country, Hartford HealthCare reached a milestone by hitting the 100,000-test mark, a feat officials say has helped keep Connecticut’s infection rate at less than 1 percent. “Testing is absolutely vital to containment,” said Hartford HealthCare President and CEO Jeff Flaks. “We will...

Dr. Linette Rosario

Millennial Doctor: Why Millennials Need a Primary Care Physician

What happens when millennials get their own health insurance plan? Unfortunately, not enough. They’re much less likely than Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) to have a primary care physician. Dr. Linette Rosario is a primary care physician with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Bridgeport. She’s also a...

Frustrated woman worried about problem sitting on sofa with laptop

Fatigued From Bad News? 5 Ways to Tune Out

As responsible citizens, we like to watch the news, but the stress of pandemics, racism, protests that can spark looting or tear-gassing, and an ugly election season makes it a stressful experience. We turn the news on each evening or read it in papers, magazines or websites. Meanwhile, the feelings...

Connecticut College

Conn College Adding Health Services, Sports Medicine From Hartford HealthCare

There’s a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care location a few minutes off the Connecticut College campus in New London, but a new partnership brings high-quality, comprehensive healthcare even closer for students and faculty. Hartford HealthCare (HHC) and Connecticut College announced a partnership July 8 designed to enhance student health services and...