The comparative efficacy and risk of harms of the intravenous and subcutaneous formulations of trastuzumab in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer: a rapid review

Miriam Van den Nest, Anna Glechner, Maria Gold, Gerald Gartlehner

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Review article

9 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Trastuzumab is a monoclonal antibody for patients with HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2)-positive breast cancer, which is added to regular treatment and reduces mortality. Originally, trastuzumab had to be administered intravenously (IV) over 30 min every 3 weeks for 1 year. Since 2012, a formulation for the subcutaneous (SC) administration of trastuzumab has been available, which has not yet been approved in the USA. Advocates claim that the SC formulation saves time and money, despite higher costs. The purpose of this study is to review existing literature concerning the comparative efficacy and risk of harms of trastuzumab IV and SC concerning patient-relevant health outcomes.

METHODS: We conducted searches in the Cochrane Library and MEDLINE for articles published through May 2018 in English or German. In addition, we searched to identify unpublished studies. We dually reviewed the abstracts and full-text articles based on a priori defined inclusion criteria, rated the risk of bias of included studies, and assessed the strength of the evidence for each outcome of interest. Because data was insufficient for quantitative synthesis, we summarized results narratively.

RESULTS: We identified three RCTs (randomized controlled trials) meeting our eligibility criteria, which included data on 1003 patients. We found moderate evidence for similar event rates (20.05% vs. 18%, HR (hazard ratio) 0.88, CI 95% = 0.62-1.27), and mortality rates (10% vs. 8%, HR 0.76, CI 95% = 0.44-1.32) after 1.7 years for patients receiving trastuzumab IV and for patients receiving SC. Results remained similar after 3.3 years, though evidence lacked strength due to a high dropout rate. All trials reported more adverse events among the SC group than in the IV group. Evidence for these findings was of moderate strength. Nevertheless, more than 85% of the patients preferred trastuzumab SC over IV. Results concerning serious adverse events appeared to be heterogeneous.

CONCLUSION: Results of studies indicate similar efficacy between the two routes of administration. The higher rates of adverse events for SC administration were mainly attributable to injection site-related events. The clinical decision of whether to administer trastuzumab SC or IV requires the consideration of several factors and should be determined individually.

Original languageEnglish
Article number321
Pages (from-to)321
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2019


  • Administration, Intravenous
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized/therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms/drug therapy
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Receptor, ErbB-2/drug effects
  • Trastuzumab/therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States


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