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Targeted therapy for stomach cancer

Targeted therapy for stomach cancer

Approximately 20 percent of patients with advanced stomach cancer have what is known as human epidermal growth-factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive disease. This means their stomach tumors have a type of gene which stimulates cells to grow and become cancerous.

At CTCA, we test tumors for HER2. If your tumor tests positive, your medical oncologist may recommend the targeted drug Herceptin® as part of your treatment plan. Herceptin, or trastuzumab, is a monoclonal antibody which targets the HER2 gene, aiming to slow or stop it from triggering the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Sometimes, targeted therapy for stomach cancer causes side effects, like fatigue, which can interfere with your quality of life.

Throughout your stomach cancer treatment, we will provide integrative oncology services, including nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, pain management and mind-body medicine. These therapies can help reduce treatment-related side effects and keep you strong in body, mind and spirit.

Although relatively new as a stomach cancer treatment, Herceptin has been used to treat breast cancer for more than a decade. Most often, it is used in combination with chemotherapy for stomach cancer. But, in some cases, this form of targeted therapy may be used alone.

What is targeted therapy?

Targeted therapies are drugs or other substances designed to block the growth and spread of cancer by preventing cancer cells from dividing or by destroying them directly. While standard chemotherapy affects all cells in the body, targeted therapy directs drugs or other specially created substances (e.g.,  immune system proteins developed in the lab) to attack cancer cells. The goal of targeted therapy is to interfere with genes or proteins involved in tumor growth to block the spread of the disease.

By targeting specific molecules that are responsible for the growth, progression and spread of cancer, targeted therapy differs from standard chemotherapy, which attacks the disease systemically and, therefore, also damages healthy cells. Because targeted therapy specifically seeks out cancer cells, it is designed to reduce the harm to healthy cells, which may lead to fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy.

Targeted therapies serve as the foundation of precision medicine, which uses information about a person’s genes or a tumor’s DNA profile to identify additional treatment options. Tailored treatments target abnormalities that may be found in each tumor’s DNA profile. This innovation marks a shift from traditional treatments designed for the average patient, toward more precise therapies.

Targeted therapy is an evolving science, and not all cancer types may be treated with targeted drugs. Several targeted therapies have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in cancer treatment, including hormone therapies, immunotherapies, signal transduction inhibitors, apoptosis inducers, gene expression modulators, angiogenesis inhibitors and toxin delivery molecules.

To help identify an appropriate targeted therapy for your cancer, your doctor may order tests to learn more about the genetic disposition, protein composition and other factors the tumor exhibits. Patients may be a candidate for targeted therapy if the cancer did not respond to other therapies, has spread, is inoperable or meets other criteria. Targeted therapy may also be combined with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy.

Targeted therapy may be prescribed as oral pills, administered intravenously or delivered in other ways. Targeted therapy drugs may be administered in the hospital, or prescribed in pill form and taken at home. The treatment schedule is specific to each person and his or her cancer.