Targeted therapy is a category of cancer treatment that “targets” specific molecules, often in the form of proteins, that control how cancer cells grow and spread. It is designed to destroy cells with specific genetic mutations while avoiding damage to healthy cells. Because of this, targeted therapy is also called molecularly targeted therapy or precision medicine.
Tests will be run to see if a mutation is present that can be treated with a specific targeted therapy drug. This process is called biomarker testing. Most of these mutations are developed over the lifetime of the patient and are not inherited.
Targeted therapy is effective because these proteins exist primarily in the tumor's cells and are not present in healthy tissue. This means fewer healthy cells will be destroyed in the targeted therapy treatment process.
There are a few different ways a targeted therapy can work to kill cancer cells:
In this process, the drug is introduced directly to your bloodstream through an IV, similar to how chemotherapy is given in an infusion room at an outpatient cancer center. Monoclonal antibodies are usually given through a needle in a blood vein. Some patients may require a “port” to be inserted in the upper chest area during a short procedure for their treatment. A port may help to decrease anxiety about finding a vein each time for your treatment.
Some targeted therapies can be taken orally as a pill, a capsule, or a liquid. Small-molecule drugs are pills or capsules that you can swallow.
How often and how long you receive targeted therapy depends on factors such as:
You may have treatment every day, every week, or every month. You might also be given the treatment in cycles, a period of treatment followed by a rest, which gives your body a chance to recover and build new healthy cells.
It’s very important that you follow the instructions of your oncologist closely and show up for every appointment. The cancer care team at Consultants in Medical Oncology and Hematology (CMOH) will work with you for your individualized cancer treatment plan.
As with other cancer treatments, targeted therapy can cause side effects. However they tend to be less intense than chemotherapy since most healthy cells are left alone during targeted therapy treatments.
The side effects that you may have depends on the type of targeted therapy you receive and how your body reacts to it. During your first treatment one of our experienced oncology nurses will review the most common side effects specific to your therapy. The most common side effects of targeted therapy include diarrhea and liver problems. Other side effects might include:
Very rarely, a hole might form through the wall of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large bowel, rectum, or gallbladder.
Our nursing staff will review any medicines that may prevent the side effects from happening or treat them once they occur. Most side effects of targeted therapy go away after treatment ends. Our triage staff is available around the clock for any side effects or treatment related issues. We encourage patients to call 610-492-5900 at the first sign of symptoms or issues and discuss with our triage staff for quick resolution.
Targeted therapies are a rapidly growing field of cancer research. As researchers continue to study new targets and drugs through clinical trials, there is hope that more cancers will be able to be treated with targeted therapies in the future.