Tablet Therapy (Targeted Therapy) in Cancer
Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that targets proteins that control how cancer cells grow, divide, and spread. It is the foundation of precision medicine. As researchers learn more about the DNA changes and proteins that drive cancer, they are better able to design treatments that target these proteins.
What are the types of targeted therapy?
Most targeted therapies are either small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies. Small-molecule drugs are small enough to enter cells easily, so they are used for targets that are inside cells.
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. Learn more about monoclonal antibodies
Who is treated with targeted therapy?
For some types of cancer, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia (also known as CML), most people with that cancer will have a target for a certain drug, so they can be treated with that drug. But most of the time, your tumor will need to be tested to see if it contains targets for which there is a drug.
Testing your cancer for targets that could help choose your treatment is called biomarker testing. See Biomarker Testing for Cancer Treatment for more information.
You may need to have a biopsy for biomarker testing. A biopsy is a procedure in which your doctor removes a piece of the tumor for testing. There are some risks to having a biopsy. These risks vary depending on the size of the tumor and where it is located. Your doctor will explain the risks of having a biopsy for your type of tumor.
How does targeted therapy work against cancer?
Most types of targeted therapy help treat cancer by interfering with specific proteins that help tumors grow and spread throughout the body. This is different from chemotherapy, which often kills all cells that grow and divide quickly.
- Help the immune system destroy cancer cells: One reason that cancer cells thrive is because they can hide from your immune system. Certain targeted therapies can mark cancer cells so it is easier for the immune system to find and destroy them. Other targeted therapies help boost your immune system to work better against cancer. Learn more about immunotherapy to treat cancer.
- Stop cancer cells from growing by interrupting signals that cause them to grow and divide without order: Healthy cells in your body usually divide to make new cells only when they receive strong signals to do so. These signals bind to proteins on the cell surface, telling the cells to divide. This process helps new cells form only as your body needs them. But, some cancer cells have changes in the proteins on their surface that tell them to divide whether or not signals are present. Some targeted therapies interfere with these proteins, preventing them from telling the cells to divide. This process helps slow cancer’s uncontrolled growth.
Stop signals that help form blood vessels: To grow beyond a certain size, tumors need to form new blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. The tumor sends signals that start angiogenesis. Some targeted therapies called angiogenesis inhibitors interfere with these signals to prevent a blood supply from forming. Without a blood supply, tumors stay small. Or, if a tumor already has a blood supply, these treatments can cause blood vessels to die, which causes the tumor to shrink.
How your body reacts to treatment?
You may have treatment every day, every week, or every month. Some targeted therapies are given in cycles. A cycle is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest. The rest period gives your body a chance to recover and build new healthy cells.
How will targeted therapy affect me?
Targeted therapy affects people in different ways. How you feel depends on how healthy you are before treatment, your type of cancer, how advanced it is, the kind of targeted therapy you are getting, and the dose. Doctors and nurses cannot know for certain how you will feel during treatment.
How will I know whether targeted therapy is working?
While you are receiving targeted therapy, you will see your doctor often. He or she will give you physical exams and ask you how you feel. You will have medical tests, such as blood tests, x-rays, and different types of scans. These regular visits and tests will help the doctor know whether the treatment is working.