Targeted Therapy Cancer Treatment

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.  

How Does Targeted Therapy Fight Cancer?

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. 

Targeted therapies can: 

  • Help the immune system destroy cancer cells
  • Interrupt signals that cause cancer cells to grow and divide without order
  • Prevent cancer cells from living longer than normal
  • Stop signals that help form blood vessels, which tumors need to grow
  • Deliver cell-killing substances to cancer cells
  • Starve cancer of the hormones it needs to grow
  • Encourage cell death in cancer cells

Types of Targeted Therapies

There are several different types of targeted therapy. The most common types are monoclonal antibodies and small-molecule drugs.

  • 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. Some monoclonal antibodies mark cancer cells so that they will be better seen and destroyed by the immune system. Other monoclonal antibodies directly stop cancer cells from growing or cause them to self-destruct. Still others carry toxins to cancer cells.
  • Small-molecule drugs are small enough to enter cells quickly and easily, so they become targets that are inside cells.

Other types of targeted therapy include: 

  • apoptosis inducers 
  • immunotherapies that target trigger the immune system to kill cancer cells
  • angiogenesis inhibitors

Administration and Frequency of Targeted Therapies

Targeted therapies can be given in two main ways: 

  1. Orally (by mouth). Some targeted therapies can be taken orally as a pill, a capsule, or a liquid. Small-molecule drugs are given orally 
  2. Intravenously (IV). In this process, the drug is introduced directly to your bloodstream through a catheter. This is how monoclonal antibodies are usually administered. 

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.

Side Effects of Targeted Therapy

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:

  • problems with blood clotting and wound healing
  • high blood pressure
  • fatigue
  • mouth sores
  • nail changes
  • the loss of hair color
  • skin problems, which might include rash or dry skin

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. 

Developments in Targeted Therapy

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.

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