Targeted Therapy: A New Approach to Cancer Treatment
Doctors use many types of treatments to fight cancer. These include:
- Removing the cancerous cells with surgery
- Weakening the cancer with anti-cancer drugs (this is called “chemotherapy”)
- Bombarding the cancer with high-energy rays
These treatments have been used for many decades. More recently, a new approach has been developed that uses special drugs to target cancer cells directly. This treatment is called “targeted therapy.” Targeted therapy disrupts the way cancer develops and keeps cancer cells from growing.
Targeting patients with precision
Targeted therapy uses drugs, but these drugs are different than the ones used in regular chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is designed to kill tumor cells, however, it can also affect some healthy cells. Targeted drugs, on the other hand, are able to hunt down cancer cells and work on them while leaving most healthy cells alone.
These therapies are an important part of a new type of treatment called “precision medicine.” This approach is being used to treat a number of diseases, including cancer. Precision medicine can use scientific information about a patient’s genes and cell proteins to treat diseases. It can also help diagnose some diseases and even prevent them in some cases.
Different cancers, different therapies
For some types of cancer, doctors know that a targeted therapy will probably work without doing advanced tests. Other types of cancer need to be tested to confirm that targeted therapy can be used. Some of the cancers treated by targeted therapies include:
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Skin cancer
Targeted therapy includes many kinds of drugs, including these:
Monoclonal antibodies. These drugs are typically made of large molecules that are too big to enter cells. Instead, they are used to block specific targets outside cancer cells, including:
- Targets on the cell surface
- Tissues in the area around the cancer
Small-molecule drugs. These smaller-sized drugs can enter cells more easily to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. For example, one type of small-molecule drug keeps tumors from making new blood vessels. These drugs starve the cancer because the blood supply can’t deliver the nutrients the cancer needs to thrive.
Is targeted therapy a better option?
Scientists are working hard to research and develop new targeted therapies because they are helping many patients. However, targeted therapies have some side effects and don’t work for every patient.
Targeted drugs can cause liver problems, including hepatitis and elevated liver enzymes. Other side effects include:
- Skin problems (rashes, dry skin, nail changes)
- Problems with blood clotting and wound healing
- High blood pressure
In addition, cancer cells can become resistant to the drugs. The therapy can then lose effectiveness. Some studies have shown that targeting different parts of cancer cells with different drugs can work better than targeting with only one. Doctors may use two targeted therapy drugs together to maintain effectiveness. Doctors also sometimes use a targeted therapy combined with one or more traditional chemotherapy drugs.
Regional Cancer Care Associates — Cancer care you can trust
At Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), our doctors deliver top-quality, state-of-the-art treatment close to your home. We are proud of our healthcare teams because they are respected by their peers and trusted by our patients. At RCCA, we will be with you and your loved ones every step of the way, with our nationally-recognized level of cancer care.