Targeted therapy, also called precision medicine, works by stopping or slowing the growth or spread of cancer by “targeting” specific molecules, often in the form of proteins. Cancer cells need these proteins, generated by mutated genes, to survive, multiply, and spread.
One key difference from other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, is that targeted therapy can identify cancer cells and avoid healthy cells.
When diagnosed, your oncologist may request biomarker tests, also called genomic tests, on a tumor to look for any gene mutations. The results of these tests indicate whether there is a gene that has mutated, and which one it is. Based on that there may be a specific targeted therapy drug that will work best.
Targeted therapies can be used as part of a personalized cancer treatment plan for several different types of cancer. Quite often it’s one of a few different treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery.
Most types of targeted therapy help treat cancer by interfering with specific proteins that help tumors grow and spread throughout the body. Doctors identify certain biomarkers and target them. Biomarkers are specific molecules that exist only in the tumor's cells and are not present in healthy tissue. This is different from chemotherapy, which often kills all cells that grow and divide quickly.
There are several different types of targeted therapy. The most common types are monoclonal antibodies and small-molecule drugs.
Targeted therapies can be given in two main ways:
Your cancer type and how well you respond to treatment will determine how often and how long you’ll need targeted therapy. Your cancer treatment may take place every day, every week, or every month. You might also be given the treatment in cycles, a period of treatment followed by a break.
It’s very important that you follow the instructions of your oncologist closely and show up for every appointment. The cancer care team at New York Oncology Hematology (NYOH) will work with you for your individualized cancer treatment plan.
As with other cancer treatments, targeted therapy can cause side effects. The side effects that you may have depends on the type of targeted therapy you receive and how your body reacts to it. 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.
There are medicines that may prevent the side effects from happening or treat them once they occur. Talk with your oncologist to see if he or she can prescribe something to help. Most side effects of targeted therapy go away after treatment ends.
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.
New York Oncology Hematology uses targeted therapy drugs to create personalized treatment plans which can sometimes include clinical trials that test the latest in targeted therapy drugs for various types of cancer. Request an appointment with one of our oncologists in your area of New York including Albany, Troy, Clifton Park, Amsterdam and Hudson.