What is targeted therapy?
Targeted therapy is a type of drug treatment. It attacks specific cancer cell features, known as molecular targets, to stop the cancer growing and spreading.
Targeted therapy is sometimes called molecular targeted therapy and biological therapies.
Where do molecular targets come from?
Cancer is caused by abnormal changes in a person’s genes. These gene abnormalities, which can cause cancer cells to multiply and grow, are known as molecular targets. They can be inherited or acquired.
How does targeted therapy work?
Targeted therapy drugs circulate throughout the body with each drug acting on a specific molecular target within or on the surface of cancer cells. As molecular targets are involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells, blocking them can kill cancer cells or slow their growth, while keeping damage to healthy cells at a minimum.
Targeted therapy drugs are used to control cancer growth and often cause the signs and symptoms of cancer to reduce or even disappear. The drugs may need to be taken long-term and will require you to have regular tests to monitor the cancer.
Targeted therapy is not suitable for everyone. Your doctors will test the cancer to see if the cells contain a particular molecular target. Different people with the same cancer type can receive different treatments based on their test results.
How is targeted therapy given?
Targeted therapy drugs are usually prescribed by a haematologist or medical oncologist. They are generally given in repeating cycles with periods of rest in between. Targeted therapy drugs may be given on their own or in combination of chemotherapy drugs. Some may be taken daily for months or even years – this will depend on the aim of treatment, how the cancer responds and any side effects you may have.
Targeted therapy drugs can be given as tablets that you swallow, through a drip into a vein in your arm or as an injection under your skin.
Who can benefit from targeted therapy?
Targeted therapy drugs have been approved for use in Australia for a number of cancer types. These include bowel, breast, cervical, kidney, lung, stomach, ovarian and thyroid cancers. Melanoma and some forms of lymphoma, myeloma and leukaemia may also use targeted therapy as a treatment.