Targeted therapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to target specific genes and proteins that are involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells. Targeted therapy can affect the tissue environment that helps cancer grow and survive or it can target cells related to cancer growth, like blood vessel cells. Targeted therapy can be used by itself or in combination with other treatments, such as traditional or standard chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy.
Types of Targeted Therapy
Most targeted therapies are either small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.
- Small-molecule drugs are small enough to enter cells easily, so they are used for targets that are inside cells.
- Monoclonal antibodies, also known as therapeutic antibodies, are proteins produced in the lab. These proteins are designed to attach to specific targets found on cancer cells.
For some types of cancer, most patients with that cancer will have a target for a certain drug, so they can be treated with that drug. But, most of the time, your tumor needs to be tested to see if it contains targets for the drugs. To have your tumor tested for targets, you may need to have a biopsy.
Most types of targeted therapy help treat cancer by interfering with specific proteins that help tumors grow and spread throughout the body. They treat cancer in many ways:
- Help the immune system destroy cancer cells.
- Stop cancer cells from growing.
- Stop signals that help form blood vessels.
- Deliver cell-killing substances to cancer cells.
- Cause cancer cell death.
- Starve cancer of the hormones it needs to grow.
How Targeted Therapy is Administered
Where you go for treatment depends on which drugs you are getting and how they are given. You may take targeted therapy at home. Or, you may receive targeted therapy in a doctor’s office, clinic, or outpatient unit in a hospital.
You may have treatment every day, every week, or every month. Some targeted therapies are given in cycles. A cycle is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest. The rest period gives your body a chance to recover and build new healthy cells.
Are there limitations to targeted therapy?
As with any cancer treatment, targeted therapy may not be the best treatment for every person with cancer. It may seem simple to use a drug for your specific cancer, but targeted therapy is complex, and it does not always work. It is important to know that:
- A targeted treatment will not work if the tumor does not have the target
- Having the target does not mean the tumor will respond to the drug
- The response to the treatment may not last over time
Targeted therapy affects people in different ways. How you feel depends on how healthy you are before treatment, your type of cancer, how advanced it is, the kind of targeted therapy you are getting, and the dose.