Targeted Therapy Overview
Targeted cancer therapies use drugs that block the growth and spread of cancer. They interfere with specific molecules involved in carcinogenesis (the process by which normal cells become cancer cells) and tumor growth. Because scientists call these molecules “molecular targets,” these therapies are sometimes called “molecular-targeted drugs,” “molecularly targeted therapies,” or other similar names. By focusing on molecular and cellular changes that are specific to cancer, targeted cancer therapies may be more effective than current treatments and less harmful to normal cells.
Most targeted cancer therapies are in preclinical testing (research with animals), but some are in clinical trials (research studies) or have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Targeted cancer therapies are being studied for use alone, in combination with each other, and in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.
Although targeted therapy drugs don’t affect the body the same way that standard chemo drugs do, they can still cause side effects. There are many different types of targeted drugs, and the side effects from these drugs depend largely on what each drug targets. Some drugs target substances that are more common on cancer cells, but are also found on healthy cells. These drugs can affect healthy cells, too, causing side effects.
It’s important to know that not all targeted drugs cause all of these side effects. Talk to your doctor or nurse about which ones are most likely with the treatment you’re getting.
Targeted therapies may be used alone or with other types of therapy, such as chemotherapy. Targeted therapy can be given in different ways. For example, it may be given as pills or capsules that are swallowed (orally) or by needle into a vein (intravenously). Some targeted therapy drugs must be given in the hospital. Others can be taken at home. Targeted therapy treatment is based on a set schedule, or protocol, that is based on the person’s specific condition. Each course of treatment usually involves a treatment period followed by a recovery period.