HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Symptoms & Treatment

Are you aware of the subtle yet crucial signals your body might be sending you? Or maybe you are just wondering what HER2-positive breast cancer is and how it affects the lives of countless individuals. What are the latest advancements in the fight against breast cancer?

Well, you are in the right place!

In the following article, we will have a detailed discussion on HER2-positive breast cancer, answering all your questions and shedding light on the HER2-positive breast cancer symptoms and cutting-edge treatments that can indeed make all the difference.

Without further ado, let’s get started:

What Is HER2-Positive Breast Cancer?

HER2-positive breast cancer is a specific subtype of breast cancer that is characterized by the presence of excess HER2 protein on the surface of cancer cells. 

HER2, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, plays a vital role in controlling cell growth and division.  And whenever there is an overabundance of HER2 in breast cancer cells, it can lead to the rapid and uncontrolled growth of breast cancer cells – making the cancer more aggressive and harder to treat.

However, the good news is that HER2-positive breast cancer is highly treatable. Targeted therapies like Herceptin and Perjeta specifically target the HER2 protein – slowing down or even stopping the growth of these cancer cells. This has significantly improved the outlook for people with HER2-positive breast cancer.

It’s important to note that not all breast cancers are HER2-positive, the majority are breast cancer HER2 negative. Therefore, early detection and a personalized HER2-Positive treatment plan tailored to the individual’s unique situation is a crucial step in managing this type of breast cancer effectively. 

Last but not the least, every patient must work closely with their healthcare team to determine the best approach to fight off the HER2-positive breast cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors for HER2-Positive Breast Cancer

The exact causes of HER2-positive breast cancer are not fully understood, but researchers have identified several risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing this type of breast cancer:

  • HER2 Gene Mutation: The fundamental cause of HER2-positive breast cancer is a genetic mutation in the Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (HER2) gene. 

This mutation triggers an excessive production of the HER2 protein on the surface of breast cells, promoting uncontrolled cell growth. This genetic alteration can either occur spontaneously or be inherited from family members with a history of breast cancer.

  • Gender: Women are at a higher risk of developing HER2-positive breast cancer in comparison to men, including the HER2 positive sybtype. That is, while it can affect both genders, the incidence is significantly more common in women.
  • Age: The risk of HER2-positive breast cancer increases with age. It is most frequently diagnosed in women over the age of 50. However, cases in younger individuals do occur.
  • Family History: A family history of breast cancer, particularly if it involves first-degree relatives (such as a mother, sister, or daughter), can elevate the risk of developing HER2-positive breast cancer. On the other hand, if a family member carries a known genetic mutation, like BRCA1 or BRCA2, the risk is even higher.
  • Hormone Receptor Status: HER2-positive breast cancer can co-exist with different hormone receptor statuses, including hormone receptor-positive (estrogen or progesterone receptor-positive) or hormone receptor-negative status. As a result, these distinctions can greatly influence the treatment options and strategies. 
  • Environmental Factors: While the HER2 gene mutation is the primary driver, environmental factors may also contribute to cancer development. These factors could include exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, and lifestyle choices like smoking and alcohol consumption.

Symptoms of HER2-Positive Breast Cancer

HER2 breast cancer early signs often exhibit symptoms that are quite similar to other types of breast cancer. So, recognizing these signs is extremely crucial for early detection and timely intervention: 

  • Breast Lump: One of the most common HER2 positive breast cancer symptoms is certianly the presence of a painless or tender lump in the breast. These lumps can differ in size and shape and may be accompanied by changes in the breast’s appearance. However, one point to note is that not all breast lumps are cancerous. 
  • Breast Changes: HER2-positive breast cancer can lead to alterations in the breast’s size, shape, or texture. Skin dimpling, redness, or thickening of the skin may occur, which can sometimes resemble the texture of an orange peel.
  • Nipple Changes: Changes in the nipple are another potential sign. This might include nipple inversion (turning inward) or unusual nipple discharge – particularly if it is bloody or occurs spontaneously. While many nipple changes are not cancer-related, the best is to have them examined by a healthcare professional.
  • Breast Pain: While breast pain is often not a specific indicator of cancer, persistent breast pain or discomfort warrants medical evaluation to rule out underlying issues.
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes: The presence of swollen lymph nodes in the armpit or around the collarbone can indicate that the cancer has spread beyond the breast. In fact, swollen lymph nodes can be an important clinical clue.
  • Unexplained Weight Loss: In advanced stages, some people with HER2-positive breast cancer experience unexplained weight loss. This occurs without any changes in diet or physical activity and could be a potential sign of breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Diagnosis of HER2-Positive Breast Cancer

Diagnosing HER2-positive breast cancer typically involves specialized laboratory tests to determine the presence of the HER2 protein or gene amplification. 

The main diagnostic methods include:

  • Immunohistochemistry (IHC): This test assesses the levels of the HER2 protein on the surface of breast cancer cells. It categorizes tumors as HER2-positive if they show strong protein overexpression. IHC is a widely used initial screening tool.
  • Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH): FISH is a more precise test that evaluates the number of copies of the HER2 gene within the cancer cells. Even if the protein levels are not strongly overexpressed, FISH can identify gene amplification – confirming HER2 positivity.
  • Inform Dual ISH Test: This is a newer test that combines the benefits of both IHC and FISH. That is, the Dual ISH test simultaneously assesses protein expression and gene amplification – offering a more detailed and reliable determination of HER2 status.

HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Treatment

HER2-positive breast cancer is a subtype of breast cancer that’s driven by an overabundance of the HER2 protein. Fortunately, there are a combination of strategies to effectively combat this breast cancer. 

They are as follows:

Chemotherapy 

Chemotherapy involves using powerful drugs to kill or slow down the growth of cancer cells. It’s often used in combination with other treatments to target both the primary tumor and any potential cancer cells that may have spread elsewhere in the body.

Radiation

Radiation therapy employs high-energy beams to target and eliminate cancer cells. There are two main types:

  • External Beam Radiation

This treatment directs radiation from outside the body onto the tumor. It’s a common choice after breast-conserving surgery to reduce the risk of cancer returning.

  • Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy involves placing a radiation source directly inside the breast near the tumor. It’s a more localized option for certain cases.

Surgery

Surgical options vary depending on the extent of the cancer. They include:

  • Lumpectomy or Breast-Conserving Surgery: This procedure involves removing the tumor and a small margin of surrounding healthy tissue, preserving as much of the breast as possible.
  • Mastectomy: In a mastectomy, the entire breast is removed, often recommended in cases with extensive cancer involvement or when the patient prefers this approach.
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB): To determine if cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the sentinel node, the first node draining the breast, is removed and examined. It’s a less invasive alternative to full lymph node removal.
  • Axillary lymph node dissection (ALND): In more advanced cases, ALND may be necessary to remove multiple lymph nodes from the underarm area for a more comprehensive evaluation.

Targeted Therapy

There are several targeted therapies available for HER2-positive breast cancer, such as Herceptin, Perjeta, and Kadcyla. These drugs specifically target the HER2 protein, inhibiting its action and slowing down cancer cell growth.

Additionally, newer medications like Enhertu and Margenza are providing promising treatment options. Phesgo, Herceptin Hylecta, and Tukysa offer more convenient delivery methods for targeted therapy.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is generally not the primary treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer because it’s more focused on hormone receptor-positive types. However, for cases where both HER2 and hormone receptors are present, hormone therapy may be considered to prevent cancer recurrence.

Wrapping Up

The battle against HER2-positive breast cancer is ongoing, and staying informed is the first step to remain vigilant against the fight. 

However, by recognizing the HER2 positive breast cancer symptoms and understanding the latest treatments, you can take full control of your health and make informed decisions on time.

Remember, the journey to overcoming this condition might be challenging, but it is definitely a journey filled with hope and progress. 

So, make sure to listen to your body, take note of all the red signals that they may be sending to you and always remain aware, because, at the end of the day, knowledge is the ultimate power when it comes to sound health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Serious Is HER2-Positive Breast Cancer?

HER2-positive breast cancer is defintley a serious condition, but, at the same time, it is completely curable. All credit goes to the early detection and advancements in treatment, like targeted therapies, which has significantly improved the outcomes. 

However, the seriousness of HER2-positive breast cancer varies from person to person, with many individuals responding well to treatment and leading fulfilling lives after diagnosis. While, for others, the case may be a bit different.

Where Does HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Spread First?

HER2-positive breast cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, but the most common sites for initial spread are the lymph nodes, especially the underarm lymph nodes, following the bones, liver, and lungs – with path varying from one person to another.

What Is The HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Survival Rate?

Survival rates can vary depending on the stage at diagnosis and individual factors. Generally, early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer has a good prognosis, with a high five-year survival rate. Advances in treatment have also improved the outlook for more advanced cases. 

Hence, it is more than important to discuss your specific situation with your healthcare team, as they can provide a more accurate prognosis and guide you through your treatment options.

How Fast Does HER2 Breast Cancer Grow?

HER2-positive breast cancer tends to grow more quickly than some other types of breast cancer due to the overexpression of the HER2 protein. However, the growth rate can vary from person to person. 

And in case, you have any concerns about the pace of your cancer’s growth, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your medical team. They can provide you with a better understanding of your specific case and treatment options. Ultimately, improving your chances of a positive and successful outcome.

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