What are monoclonal antibodies?


There is a lot of terminology that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis which can be very overwhelming. You can be inundated with different words, treatments and drugs that you have never heard of before. Because of this, it can be difficult to remember them all after consultations when you may want to look up their meaning.

In targeted biological therapies the name of the drug may give an insight into the type of drug being used. For example, many targeted biological therapies end in “mab”, such as Trastuzumab, Bevacizumab and Atezolizumab. This “mab” stands for monoclonal antibody, a type of immunotherapy. This brings us to the next question – what are these monoclonal antibodies and how do they work?

Key Tip: Always look for the ‘mab’ at the end of drug name to determine whether it is a monoclonal antibody.

Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are a class of drugs used in certain breast cancer treatments called targeted biological therapies. Antibodies are proteins that are capable of recognising certain proteins that live on the surface of cells. The antibodies attach to these proteins (see diagram). The term monoclonal just means one of many – monoclonal antibodies are simply identical antibodies. The behaviour of the cell can be altered when an antibody binds to the protein on the cell surface. They can be very effective as they have a very high binding affinity for specific cell surface proteins.

How monoclonal antibodies work

One example of a targeted biological therapy is Trastuzumab – a monoclonal antibody that targets the HER2 protein receptor.  HER2 can be over expressed in breast cancer cells. Due to this, you are likely to have had a test to see if you are are HER2 positive. This means that the tumour type contains many HER2 proteins. This could mean that you are eligible for treatment with Trastuzumab which is commercially know as Herceptin®. This monoclonal antibody is specific for HER2 receptor proteins and upon binding can alter cell division, attempting to slow down the growth of the breast cancer cells. Take a look at our blog post ‘The History of HER2 and Herceptin®’ to learn the story behind this successful therapy. 

How OWise can help with unfamiliar words

iPhone XS GlossaryIf you come across any words that you are unsure about in your appointments or when reading up on your diagnosis, OWise is there to help. You can refer to the glossary within the app at a click of a button to clarify and understand what certain words mean. You can record your appointments or jot down notes in the app throughout your appointments. This gives you easy reference later on when you are trying to remember all of the words that you may be unfamiliar with.

Let us know if this article has helped you. Do you have any comments or suggestions? 

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