Esophagus Cancer

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Treating Esophagus Cancer TOPICS

Targeted therapy for cancer of the esophagus

As researchers have learned more about the changes in cells that cause cancer, they have been developed newer drugs that specifically target these changes. Targeted drugs are different from standard chemotherapy drugs. Sometimes they work when standard chemo drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects.

A small number of esophagus cancers have too much of the HER2 protein on the surface of their cells, which can help cancer cells to grow. Having too much of this protein is caused by having too many copies of the HER2 gene.

A drug that targets the HER2 protein, known as trastuzumab (Herceptin), may help treat these cancers when used along with chemotherapy. If you have esophageal cancer and can’t have surgery, your doctor may have your tumor biopsy samples tested for the HER2 protein or gene. Cancers that have normal amounts of the HER2 protein or gene are very unlikely to be helped by this drug.

Trastuzumab is injected into a vein (IV) once every 3 weeks along with chemo. The optimal length of time to give it is not yet known.

Most of the side effects of trastuzumab are relatively mild and can include fever and chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, cough, diarrhea, and headache. These occur less often after the first dose. This drug also sometimes can cause heart damage, leading to the heart muscle becoming weak. This drug is not given with certain chemo drugs called anthracyclines, such as epirubicin (Ellence) or doxorubicin (Adriamycin), because it can further increase the risk of heart damage if they are given together. Before starting treatment with this drug, your doctor may test your heart function with an echocardiogram or a MUGA scan.

Last Medical Review: 03/20/2014
Last Revised: 04/08/2014