What is targeted cancer therapy?

Targeted cancer therapy refers to the use of precision medication to target cancer cells. While chemotherapy works by destroying rapidly dividing cells, and affects both cancerous and healthy cells, targeted cancer therapy is designed to destroy or slow down only cancer cells, without damaging non-cancerous cells. 

Cancer cells, like normal body cells, are made up of DNA, sequences of which make genes. Researchers have investigated cancer genes to look for abnormalities which distinguish the genes from those of normal body cells. These differences in cancer genetics are what allow cancer cells to grow, survive and spread in the body. Targeted cancer therapies have developed using this information about the genetic mutations involved in specific types of cancers. By understanding which genetic mutations are driving the growth of a particular cancer, researchers have been able to develop drugs which target and switch off these specific genetic mutations.

When is targeted therapy used?

Although cancer therapy is evolving and new drugs are being designed all the time, currently not all cancer mutations have drugs which can be used target them. The decision to use targeted therapy depends on the individual cancer as well as the patient’s overall health.

Do targeted therapies have side effects?

Although targeted treatment usually causes less side effects than chemotherapy, known side effects of targeted cancer therapy include fatigue, skin rashes, changes in hair colour and texture, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

It is also possible to experience high blood pressure, changes in hair colour and texture, and issues with blood clotting as a result of the treatment.

What does the treatment involve?

Targeted cancer therapy is usually administered in tablet form, but in some cases is given via subcutaneous injection or via a drip. Your doctor will guide you through the process, and let you know what to expect in terms of how long you will need to take the drugs for.