Understanding Targeted Therapies
Targeted therapies are one of the great new waves of cancer research. As more is understood about the specific genes or proteins in a cancer cell, drugs are being discovered that "target" that one spot. In theory, there are at least two major advantages over standard chemotherapy: 1) the hope is that it will work better as it is so directly focused on an individual tumor, and 2) it does not have the side effects that chemotherapy does--no hair loss, often no GI problems. Don't be fooled, however; these are powerful drugs, and they do often have side effects. I know a woman who is receiving a targeted therapy on a clinical trial, and she is experiencing serious visual problems. She describes it was someone turning down the lights in an already darkened room. She can't drive at night and has real problems in many daily situations.
Many targeted drugs are still in development and only available on clinical trials. There are a few old standards, however: tamoxifen was probably the first targeted therapy for breast cancer (blocking estrogen in ER positive tumors) and herceptin is a newer example. This is an excellent article from CancerNet about these treatments.
Understanding Targeted Therapy
This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board , December / 2013
Watch the Cancer.Net Video: What is Targeted Therapy? with Nicholas Vogelzang, MD , adapted from this content.
• Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that targets a cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that
contributes to cancer growth and survival.
• Not all tumors have the same targets, so doctors may run tests to match a cancer with the most effective treatment.
• A number of targeted therapies are being used to treat cancer, and many more are being tested in clinical trials.
• Although targeted therapies are a promising way to personalize cancer treatment, resistance to treatment often
develops and side effects can be an issue.
Targeted therapy includes drugs that are aimed at specific genes or proteins that are only found in cancer cells or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. It is often used along with chemotherapy and other cancer
treatments to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. Currently there are a number of targeted therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat many types of cancer. In addition, clinical trials  are continuing to look for additional drugs aimed at new targets that have recently been discovered.