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After its approval by the FDA, then Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala summarized Herceptin's promise, "For certain women with advanced disease, this new product can mean new hope."
But Herceptin is not without side effects. Up to 28% of all women taking the drug with chemotherapy agents experienced heart problems, including cardiomyopathy. This is a potentially life-threatening heart muscle weakness that can lead to congestive heart failure. This side effect is particularly common in women receiving chemotherapy with drugs known as anthracyclines (including a common breast cancer therapy called doxorubicin) and cyclophosphamide.
For this reason, the FDA recommends that every woman considering Herceptin have a thorough cardiac assessment before taking the drug and...