What is targeted therapy? When is it recommended?
Targeted therapy is the use of drugs that target specifically cancer cells utilising their specific characteristic or genetic makeup and prevent the cancer from growing and spreading further and also in many cases killing cancer cells. Used usually to target genes or proteins, in some cases, it may also be used to target other types of cells that may be helping the cancer to grow and spread.
These are available in variety of cancers and are more effective with reduced side effects.
How is it different from chemotherapy and other cancer treatments?
• Chemotherapy is used to target the process through which the cancerous cells can grow and divide.
• Targeted therapy targets the specific cancer cells or parts of it, so as to prevent them from further growing and dividing.
• As part of chemotherapy, the drugs can circulate to the other parts of the body to where the cancer may have spread.
• In targeted therapy, only the specific cancerous cells are treated to minimize effects the therapy might have on other tissues of the body.
How does it work?
Here are some of the ways in which target therapies work:
• By turning or blocking off the signals that enable the cancer cells to grow and divide
• By marking out the cancer cells, making it easier for the immune system to spot and destroy them
• By boosting the immune system to fight better against cancer
• By destroying the cancer cells
• Use hormone therapy to reduce the hormonal levels which the cancerous cells might need to grow, and in the process, destroy them
Which cancers benefit from targeted therapy?
Majority of cancers have targeted therapies available eg. Rituximab (anti CD 20) in lymphoma (Blood cancer), Trastuzumab in Breast Cancer (Her2 receptor Positive) etc.
But please consult your doctor and medical care team to better understand more about these treatments.
How is it given?
Targeted therapy can be given as:
• Intravenous (IV) infusion with a catheter
• Orally in the form of a pill, capsule or liquid.
Are there any side effects of targeted therapy?
Depending from case to case, but here are a few that some may experience:
• Sun burns, redness or itching
• Excessive sensitivity to light
• Easily blisters or burns
• Rashes that look like acne
• Excessively dry skin
• Redness or sores around cuticles
• Hand foot syndrome (HFS)
Changes in hair growth:
• Thin and brittle hair
• Very dry hair
• Hair becomes curly when it naturally was not
• Bald patches
• Complete loss of hair on scalp
• Faster facial hair growth for men and women
• Thinning eyebrows
• Hair or skin may turn yellowish
• Hair or skin may turn darker
Effects on eyes:
• Burning sensation in eyes
• Dry or red eyes
• Tender and swollen eyelids
• Crusty eyelashes
• Distorted eyelids
Additional side effects- Gastrointestinal, Genitourinary, Pulmonary etc
The side effects will also vary from person to person, depending upon the type of dosage, the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, overall health and other important factors.
How to prepare for targeted therapy?
It is a good idea to keep these in mind before beginning targeted therapy:
• Start using gentle and chemical/fragrance-free products for your skin and hair
• If you notice any skin changes, inform your doctor
• Speak to your doctor about any health condition you have, or if you notice any discomfort or health issues before you begin the therapy
Are there any tests to be done before targeted therapy?
Depending on the type of cancer and the nature of treatment required, your doctor may either give you targeted therapy as a standalone treatment option, or want to combine it with some other therapies.
Before the treatment begins, your doctor may:
• Test the tumour to check if there are any other targets
• Do a biopsy
• Try out a few other types of treatment first
Is targeted therapy covered by insurance?
Your insurance provider will be able to give you the most accurate answer for this, as different insurance providers have different policies.