Precision medicine refers to the use of information about the genes, proteins, and other features of a person’s cancer to diagnose or treat their disease.
Targeted therapy is the foundation of precision medicine. It is a type of cancer treatment that targets the changes in cancer cells that help them grow, divide, and spread. As researchers learn more about the cell changes that drive cancer, they are better able to design promising therapies that target these changes or block their effects.
Most targeted therapies are either small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.
Small-molecule drugs are small enough to enter cells easily, so they are used for targets that are inside cells.
Monoclonal antibodies are drugs that are not able to enter cells easily. Instead, they attach to specific targets on the outer surface of cancer cells.
For some types of cancer, most patients with that cancer will have a target for a certain drug, so they can be treated with that drug. But, most of the time, your tumor will need to be tested to see if it contains targets for which we have drugs.
To have your tumor tested for targets, you may need to have a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure in which your doctor removes a piece of the tumor for testing. There are some risks to having a biopsy. These risks vary depending on the size of the tumor and where it is located. Your doctor will explain the risks of having a biopsy for your type of tumor.
Most targeted therapies help treat cancer by interfering with specific proteins that help tumors grow and spread throughout the body. They treat cancer in many different ways. They can:
Targeted therapies do have some drawbacks. These include:
Targeted therapy can cause side effects. The side effects you may have depend on the type of targeted therapy you receive and how your body reacts to the therapy.
The most common side effects of targeted therapy include diarrhea and liver problems. Other side effects might include problems with blood clotting and wound healing, high blood pressure, fatigue, mouth sores, nail changes, the loss of hair color, and skin problems. Skin problems might include rash or dry skin. Very rarely, a hole might form through the wall of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large bowel, rectum, or gallbladder.
There are medicines for many of these side effects. These medicines may prevent the side effects from happening or treat them once they occur.
Most side effects of targeted therapy go away after treatment ends.
Since your tumor may be tested to find targets for treatment, there may be risks to the privacy of your personal information. The privacy of all information found from these tests is protected by law. But, there is a slight risk that genetic or other information from your health records may be obtained by people outside of the medical team.
Small-molecule drugs are pills or capsules that you can swallow.
Monoclonal antibodies are usually given through a needle in a blood vein.
Where You Go For Your Treatment
Where you go for treatment depends on which drugs you are getting and how they are given. You may take targeted therapy at home. Or, you may receive targeted therapy in a doctor’s office, clinic, or outpatient unit in a hospital. Outpatient means you do not spend the night in the hospital.
How Often You Will Receive Treatment
How often and how long you receive targeted therapy depends on:
You may have treatment every day, every week, or every month. Some targeted therapies are given in cycles. A cycle is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest. The rest period gives your body a chance to recover and build new healthy cells.
How Targeted Therapy May Affect You
Targeted therapy affects people in different ways. How you feel depends on how healthy you are before treatment, your type of cancer, how advanced it is, the kind of targeted therapy you are getting, and the dose. Doctors and nurses cannot know for certain how you will feel during treatment.
How to Tell Whether Targeted Therapy Is Working
You will see your doctor often. He or she will give you physical exams and ask you how you feel. You will have medical tests, such as blood tests, x-rays, and different types of scans.
CancerHelp Online® is a patient education program of The CancerHelp Institute, official Content Distribution Partner of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).