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​Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy drugs are designed to block the growth and spread of cancer by preventing cancer cells from growing and dividing, destroying them directly or helping other therapies, such as chemotherapy, work better.

Unlike chemotherapy, which targets fast-growing cells throughout the body whether they are cancerous or not, targeted therapy directs drugs to specific genetic features on cancer 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.

To help identify an appropriate targeted therapy for your cancer, your doctor may order tests, including advanced genomic testing, to learn more about the genetic disposition, protein composition and other traits 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.

Types of targeted therapy include:

Monoclonal antibodies are molecules engineered to seek out specific antigens found on cancer cells. These drugs are intended to stop or slow cancer cell growth, prevent cancer cells from establishing new blood supplies or regulate other areas of cancer cell behavior. They may also be designed to deliver radiation or chemotherapy directly to cancer cells.

Learn more about monoclonal antibody therapy

Targeted therapy is an evolving science, and not all cancer types may be treated with targeted drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several targeted therapies as cancer treatments, including hormone therapies, signal transduction inhibitors, apoptosis inducers, gene expression modulators, angiogenesis inhibitors and toxin delivery molecules.

Targeted therapy drugs are designed to bypass healthy cells, which is intended to produce fewer side effects. However, some targeted therapy drugs may influence cell function and produce side effects that may require supportive care therapies such as naturopathic support or nutrition therapy. Side effects may include fatigue, digestive problems, high blood pressure, dry skin or inflamed fingertips.