Herceptin is used to treat metastatic breast cancer that has progressed after treatment with chemotherapy. It has also been used to treat stomach cancers. Herceptin interferes with the growth of cancer cells and works to slow their growth and spread through the body. It is estimated that more than 25,000 cancer patients have used Herceptin after it was approved by the FDA in 1998. In 2007, it made $327 million in revenue. One full treatment costs up to $70,000.
Herceptin has been linked to serious complications such as fatal anaphylaxis, infusion reactions and pulmonary events. It has also been seen to cause serious birth defects.
Herceptin contains a black box warning that informs uses of cardiomyopathy and pulmonary toxicity. Herceptin has been linked to left ventricular cardiac dysfunction, arrhythmias, hypertension, cardiac failure, cardiomyopathy and more. This drug is thought to increase the risk of these events by four to six times.
In one study conducted by the Annals of Oncology, it was found that Herceptin can increase the risk of heart conditions in elderly patients. In patients who have a history of heart disease or diabetes, side effects may be worsened.
Herceptin has also been linked to fatal infusion reactions. This is seen within a few hours to days of administration of the drug and can lead to very dangerous side effects.
Herceptin has also been linked to birth defects and has a black box warning stating that use can cause “Embryo-Fetal Toxicity.” The birth defect that is most commonly linked to this drug is oligohydramnios—a deficiency of amniotic fluid surrounding the gestating fetus. This can lead to pulmonary hypoplasia, skeletal abnormalities and neonatal death.
Serious side effects may include:
- Chest pain or heavy feeling, pain spreading to the arm or shoulder, nausea, sweating, general ill feeling
- Fast or pounding heartbeats
- Feeling short of breath, even with mild exertion
- Swelling, rapid weight gain
- Cough or wheezing
- White patches or sores inside your mouth or on your lips
- Fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms
Less serious side effects may include:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Sore throat, sinus pain
- Joint or muscle pain, back pain
- Tired feeling