What is tar­geted ther­apy?

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Just like there are many types of can­cer, there are many ways to treat can­cer. The types of treat­ment can­cer pa­tients will re­ceive de­pends on which type of can­cer they have, and pa­tients often re­ceive a com­bi­na­tion of treat­ments.

Tar­geted ther­apy is one type of treat­ment that doc­tors may sug­gest when speak­ing with their pa­tients. Un­der­stand­ing tar­geted ther­apy can help pa­tients feel more in con­trol as they be­gin treat­ment.

What is tar­geted ther­apy?

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute, tar­geted ther­apy tar­gets the changes in can­cer cells that help them grow, di­vide and spread.

Prevent­ing can­cer from metas­ta­siz­ing, or spread­ing to other parts of the body, is a goal of treat­ment, as do­ing so dra­mat­i­cally im­proves sur­vival rates.

Are there dif­fer­ent types of tar­geted ther­apy?

Tar­geted ther­a­pies often em­ploy one of two types of drugs. Small-mol­e­cule drugs are so tiny that they can eas­ily en­ter cells. These types of drugs are used to treat can­cers in which the tar­gets are lo­cated in­side the can­cer cells.

Mon­o­clonal an­ti­bod­ies are an­other type of drug used in tar­geted ther­a­pies. Un­like small-mol­e­cule drugs, mon­o­clo- nal an­ti­bod­ies can­not eas­ily en­ter cells but can at­tach to tar­gets on the outer sur­face of can­cer cells.

Am I a can­di­date for tar­get ther­apy?

The NCI notes that most of the time tu­mors will need be tested to see if they con­tain tar­gets of drugs used dur­ing tar­get ther­a­pies. Such test­ing may re­quire a biopsy, which in­volves the re­moval of a piece of the tu­mor so it can be ex­am­ined for tar­gets. Risks as­so­ci­ated with biop­sies de­pend on the size and lo­ca­tion of the tu­mor, and doc­tors will ex­plain these risks prior to con­duct­ing a biopsy.

How does tar­geted ther­apy work?

The NCI says most tar­geted ther­a­pies aim to in­ter­fere with spe­cific pro­teins that help tu­mors grow and spread to other ar­eas of the body. The fol­low­ing are just some of the ways that tar­geted ther­a­pies treat can­cer.

• As­sist the im­mune sys­tem in de­stroy­ing can­cer cells: Can­cer cells are adept at hid­ing from the im­mune sys­tem, but some tar­geted ther­a­pies mark can­cer cells, mak­ing it eas­ier for the im­mune sys­tem to find and de­stroy them. Other tar­geted ther­a­pies may just bol­ster the im­mune sys­tem as it fights the can­cer.

• Pre­vent can­cer cell growth: Some tar­geted ther­a­pies in­ter­fere with the pro­teins that tell can­cer cells to di­vide. This slows the un­con­trolled growth of can­cer that can in­crease the like­li­hood of the can­cer metas­ta­siz­ing.

• Stop sig­nals that help form blood ves­sels: In or­der to grow be­yond a cer­tain size, tu­mors need to form new blood ves­sels. Tar­geted ther­a­pies known as an­gio­gen­e­sis in­hibitors in­ter­fere with these sig­nals, ul­ti­mately keep­ing tu­mors small by deny­ing the blood sup­ply nec­es­sary for them to grow. An­gio­gen­e­sis in­hibitors can even cause blood ves­sels to die in tu­mors that al­ready have the blood sup­ply nec­es­sary to grow.

• De­liver cell-killing sub­stances to can­cer cells: In cer­tain in­stances, mon­o­clonal an­ti­bod­ies might be com­bined with tox­ins, chemo­ther­apy drugs and ra­di­a­tion. In these in­stances, the an­ti­bod­ies at­tach to the sur­face of the can­cer cells, which then take up the can­cer-killing sub­stances, caus­ing cell death.

Are there draw­backs to tar­geted ther­apy?

Can­cer cells can be­come re­sis­tant to tar­geted ther­a­pies. In such in­stances, tar­geted ther­a­pies are most ef­fec­tive when com­bined with other tar­geted ther­a­pies or treat­ments such as chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion.

In ad­di­tion, the struc­ture and/or func­tion of tar­gets on can­cer cells some­times makes it dif­fi­cult to de­sign ef­fec­tive drugs nec­es­sary for tar­geted ther­a­pies to suc­ceed.

Tar­geted ther­a­pies are a po­ten­tial treat­ment op­tion for can­cer pa­tients. Learn more at www.can­cer.gov.

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