Targeted therapy is a cancer treatment that specifically targets cancer cells by using drugs or other substances to block chemical signals at the cell level, which is where the growth and division of cancer cells start.

Types of Cancer that may be Treated with Targeted Therapy

Currently, targeted therapy can be used to treat many types of cancers, including:

There are 2 main types of targeted therapy drugs:

  • Monoclonal Antibodies: These generally work by blocking a specific target on the outside or surface of cancer cells, thereby killing the cell or prohibiting cell division or growth. Some monoclonal antibodies have radioactive material attached to them in order to enhance their effectiveness in destroying the cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies are usually administered intravenously.
  • Small Molecules: Drugs called “small-molecule drugs” can penetrate the cell membrane to interact with targets both inside and on the surface of cancer cells. Small molecule drugs for targeted therapy are usually taken orally.

The mechanism of action for the drugs will vary depending on the growth process of the specific cancer cells targeted.

Goals of Targeted Therapy for Cancer

When treating cancer using targeted therapy, whether alone or in conjunction with other treatments such chemo or radiation therapy, the goal of the treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer targeted, as follows:

  • To cure the cancer
  • To inhibit the growth of cancer cells
  • To destroy cancer cells that have the ability to spread to other parts of the body
  • To help relieve symptoms caused by the cancer
Because the use of targeted therapy in the treatment of certain types of cancers requires that the patient’s cancer cells have a receptor or specific target that will respond to the drugs, before receiving treatment, the patient will need to undergo testing to find out whether or not if the correct gene or receptor is present and able to be treated with targeted therapy.
The frequency of targeted therapy and how long it lasts will depend on the type of cancer being targeted, the goals of the treatment, the drugs being used, and how the patient’s body responds to them. The doctor will make the assessment and determine an appropriate treatment plan for each individual patient.

Although targeted therapy does not affect the body in the same way that standard chemotherapydoes, it can still cause some side effects. These side effects may vary depending on the type and scale of the targeted therapy received. Common side effects include

  • Skin problems, such as skin inflammation or rashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart problems
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • High blood pressure

Patients receiving targeted therapy treatment should therefore request detailed information regarding potential side effects, and should seek medical attention immediately should any symptoms occur.

Patients should see their doctor for scheduled appointments in order to follow-up on treatment progress, with regard to both their body’s response to the treatment and the safety of continued use of the drugs.

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