Pertuzumab is a type of monoclonal antibody, which is a group of medications that are designed to target a specific type of cell (in this case, a Her2 positive breast cancer cell). Her2 is overexpressed on about 25-30% of all breast cancers and is associated with a poorer prognosis. Antibodies, which are normally found in the body, are developed by the immune system to destroy foreign things (such as a germ). Pertuzumab is an antibody that is made in a laboratory, with the goal of stimulating the patient's immune system to attack the breast cancer cells. Pertuzumab may also block Her2+ cells from dividing. This medication may be given in conjunction with traztuzumab because they target different areas of the Her-2 cells.
How to Take Pertuzumab
Pertuzumab is given by IV (intravenous) infusion. The first dose is given over an hour, with subsequent doses given every 3 weeks over a shorter time.
Possible Side Effects of Pertuzumab
There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of pertuzumab. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common side effects:
Some patients experience a reaction within 24 hours of the first infusion. Reactions can range from minor to serious and may include difficulty breathing, cough, wheezing, drop in blood pressure, flushing, rash and swelling. If this occurs during the infusion, it would be stopped, Tylenol and/or diphenhydramine given to lessen these reactions. The infusion may be restarted once symptoms resolve, if your doctor determines it is safe to do so. This typically does not happen with subsequent infusions.
Diarrhea is a common side effect of pertuzumab and is potentially dangerous because it can lead to serious dehydration. Diarrhea can be defined as an increase in the number of bowel movements you have in a day. Your healthcare team will tell you how to take loperamide (an anti-diarrheal medication), which you should start taking as soon as diarrhea develops. Notify your healthcare team if the diarrhea does not stop on this medication so they can help you better manage this side effect.
Nausea and/or Vomiting
Take anti-nausea medications as prescribed. If you continue to have nausea or vomiting, notify your doctor or nurse so they can help you manage this side effect. In addition, dietary changes may help. Avoid things that may worsen the symptoms, such as heavy or greasy/fatty, spicy or acidic foods (lemons, tomatoes, oranges). Try antacids, (e.g. milk of magnesia, calcium tablets such as Tums), saltines, or ginger ale to lessen symptoms. Read the Nausea & Vomiting Tip Sheet for more suggestions.
Decrease in Appetite
Pertuzumab may cause cardiac (heart) dysfunction, including severe heart failure (congestive heart failure). Patients should have their heart function tested prior to starting this therapy and during therapy if any symptoms arise. If heart function decreases, pertuzumab should be stopped. You should report to your healthcare team any symptoms of cardiac dysfunction, including: feeling like your heart is racing or pounding, dizziness, unusual tiredness, lightheadedness or shortness of breath.
Low White Blood Cell Count (Leukopenia or Neutropenia)
White blood cells (WBC) are important for fighting infection. While receiving treatment, your WBC count can drop, putting you at a higher risk of getting an infection. You should let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have a fever (temperature greater than 100.4°), sore throat or cold, shortness of breath, cough, burning with urination, or a sore that doesn't heal.
For more suggestions, read the Neutropenia Tip Sheet.
Exposure of an unborn child to this medication could cause birth defects, so you should not become pregnant or father a child while on this medication. Effective birth control is necessary during treatment, even if your menstrual cycle stops or you believe your sperm is affected. It is not known if this medication passes into breast milk and harm a baby, therefore you should not breastfeed while taking this medication.
While on cancer treatment you may need to adjust your schedule to manage fatigue. Plan times to rest during the day and conserve energy for more important activities. Exercise can help combat fatigue; a simple daily walk with a friend can help. Talk to your healthcare team and see OncoLink's section on fatigue for helpful tips on dealing with this side effect.
Loss or Thinning of Scalp and Body Hair (Alopecia)
Your hair may become thin, brittle, or may fall out. This typically begins two to three weeks after treatment starts. This hair loss can be all body hair, including pubic, underarm, legs/arms, eyelashes, and nose hairs. The use of scarves, wigs, hats and hairpieces may help. Hair generally starts to regrow soon after treatment is completed. Remember your hair helps keep you warm in cold weather, so a hat is particularly important in cold weather and to protect you from the sun. Read more on alopecia.
Peripheral Neuropathy (Numbness or Tingling in the Hands and/or Feet)
Peripheral neuropathy is a toxicity that affects the nerves. It causes a numbness or tingling feeling in the hands and feet, often in the pattern of a stocking or glove. This can get progressively worse with additional doses of the drug. In some people, the symptoms slowly resolve after the drug is stopped, but for some it never goes away completely. You should let your healthcare provider know if you experience numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, as they may need to change the doses of your medication. See OncoLink's section on peripheral neuropathy for tips on dealing with this side effect.
Other Side Effects
Some less common side effects that have been reported include: rash and anemia (low red blood cell count).