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What Is Targeted Therapy and How Is It Used To Treat Cancer?

August 10, 2022

Although it’s still in its early stages, targeted therapy for cancer has revitalized hope for a true “cure for cancer” in the medical community. Judah Folkman, an American medical scientist specializing in angiogenesis, proposed the idea of an angiogenesis inhibitor in the early 1970s. Still, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t approve the first angiogenesis inhibitor, Avastin (bevacizumab), until 2004.

In addition to the traditional ways to treat cancer, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, targeted therapy can also be an effective cancer therapy, allowing scientists and physicians to learn more about DNA and cell structure and how to attack cancer cells more precisely.

How Does Targeted Therapy Differ From Other Cancer Treatments?

You’re probably wondering how target therapy differs from other cancer treatment options. Targeted drug therapy is a cancer treatment targeting specific proteins that significantly affect how cancer cells divide and spread. One of the primary benefits of targeted drug therapy is that it can kill cancer cells while leaving normal, healthy cells intact, which is generally not the case with traditional cancer therapy.

How Does Targeted Drug Therapy Work in Treating Cancer?

These drugs can work in a variety of ways. Some medications work by disrupting signals in your body that cancer cells rely on for angiogenesis, which is the development of new blood vessels, or by depriving cancer cells of certain hormones. For example, some types of breast and prostate cancers rely on certain hormones to grow. In these cases, targeted drug therapy medications can either halt the production of these hormones or prevent them from interacting with cancer cells.

What Types of Targeted Therapy Drugs Are Used During Treatment?

Many different medications are used in targeted therapy for cancer, but they all fall into two main categories: small-molecule drugs and monoclonal antibodies.

Small-Molecule Drugs

Small-molecule drugs have a low molecular weight, allowing them to enter your cells easily. Once inside, they can affect other molecules, such as proteins, which can kill cancer cells. About 90% of pharmaceutical drugs, such as aspirin, insulin, and antihistamines, are small-molecule drugs. Aspirin, insulin, and antihistamines are all excellent examples. Most small-molecule drugs are administered orally.

Monoclonal Antibodies

Your body produces antibodies naturally, and these immune system proteins help your body identify and destroy bacteria and viruses that cause disease. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created antibodies that can help your immune system turn against cancer cells. Unlike small-molecule drugs, monoclonal antibodies are generally administered via injection into a blood vein.

How to Manage the Side Effects of Target Therapy for Cancer

Targeted therapy for cancer is one of the most innovative ways to treat cancer since the discovery of radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This is arguably the most revolutionary branch of cancer therapeutics in more than 100 years.

That said, there are some side effects. If you decide that this is one of the cancer treatment options you want to pursue, you should know about the potential drawbacks.

If you receive targeted cancer therapy, you may experience:

  • High blood pressure
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth sores
  • Difficulty with blood clotting or wound healing
  • Rash or dry skin
  • Changes in your fingernails or toenails
  • Loss of color in your hair

Like all types of cancer treatment, targeted therapeutics carry some risk. Although rare, targeted therapeutics could cause you to develop a hole in the wall of your esophagus, small intestine, gallbladder, or rectum. Your doctor can work with you to prevent the side effects of targeted cancer therapy or treat them once they occur.

How To Find Out Whether You’re a Good Fit for Targeted Therapy Drugs

Like all types of cancer treatment, targeted therapeutics won’t be a good fit for everybody, and whether it’s appropriate for your case depends on the stage and type of your cancer. To determine this, your doctor will conduct biomarker testing to see whether your cancer contains any appropriate targets, which may require a biopsy.

Targeted therapy is one of the most promising developments in cancer therapeutics. As researchers understand cancer cells and their viable targets better, targeted cancer therapy may become more common.

Verdi Oncology is committed to protecting community oncology by empowering innovation in small practices. We work with small, physician-owned oncology practices seeking access to innovative oncology care to provide the best possible care to their patients. Contact us to learn more about joining our network.