Overview (What it is, why it is used and how it works)

Targeted Cancer Therapy, also referred to as precision medicine, is a form of cancer treatment that uses specifically designed cancer medicine to target cancer cells without impacting healthy or normal cells.

These medications work by identifying and treating specific areas or substances found in cancer cells, or through blocking specific messages within the cancer cell that enable it to grow.

Cancer cells usually have certain mutations or differences in their genes that differentiate them from normal cells. Cell genes are part of what makes up a cell’s DNA and tell it to behave or act in a certain way. Cancer cells do not behave like normal healthy cells. Changes in a cell’s genes that make it behave abnormally is what distinguishes a cancer cell from a normal cell.

Understanding the different characteristics of cancer cells is what has enabled medical science to develop drugs that can identify and target the genetic mutations found within cancer cells.


When Targeted Cancer Therapy is used

A doctor will recommend Targeted Cancer Therapy depending on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer and overall treatment plan or history of the patient. This treatment is based on a number of factors and each patient’s situation is different and needs to be considered. If you would like to understand more about this treatment and if you are a candidate for this type of treatment speak to your oncologist.

Types of Targeted Cancer Therapies

There are many varieties of targeted therapy drugs available, however, these treatments are usually grouped according to how they work. There are two main groups of targeted therapy medications, namely:

Monoclonal Antibodies (MAB): Monoclonal Antibodies (MABSs) work by recognizing particular proteins on cancer cells that help tumours to grow and spread. Each MAB recognizes one specific protein therefore different MABs target different types of cancer. They all work in different ways to kill cancer cells.

Ways in which Monoclonal Antibodies work include:

  • Delivering chemotherapy or radiation treatment to cells
  • Blocking cancer cell growth
  • Helping an immune system to identify and kill cancer cells
  • Preventing blood vessel growth by blocking protein-cell interactions needed for the development of new blood vessels.  Cancer cells cannot survive without a blood supply.

Small-molecule Drugs: These drugs stop cancer cells from multiplying and spreading. An example of this type or drug are Angiogenesis Inhibitors, which prevent new blood cells from forming in the tissue around cancer cells. This effectively starves the cells because a tumour needs blood vessels to bring it nutrients for it to grow and spread.

Treatment cycle

Targeted therapy, which includes immunotherapy, is targeted at the tumour directly according to molecular or genetic mutations of the particular cancer, is a highly individualized treatment and the length of treatment will be tailored to the specific patient’s type of cancer and other factors.

How Targeted Cancer Therapy is administered

Targeted cancer therapy may be given intravenously or orally through a pill, capsule or liquid.

Side effects of Targeted Cancer Therapy

This cancer treatment generally has fewer side effects than Chemotherapy, but common side effects include:

  • Skin changes such as a rash, extreme sensitivity to sunlight, dry skin, and a feeling like a bad sunburn
  • Sores on the scalp, fingernail and toes
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Liver problems
  • High blood pressure