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Targeted Therapy

The targeted therapy treatment is a type of therapy to treat cancer that uses drugs to target cancer cells.

What is targeted therapy?

The targeted therapy treatment is a type of therapy to treat cancer that uses drugs to target cancer cells. The treatment will only destroy cancerous cells, but it will not harm normal cells. The treatment type can be used on its own or combined with other therapies, for example, chemotherapy (both traditional or standard type), surgery, or radiation therapy. 

Cancer cells’ gene will change, which make them different than normal cells. When a cell in some genes has changed, it will grow or multiply very quickly. However, there are many other cancer types, and not all types are the same. One person’s cancer may also differ from another person. Understanding this information can help to develop drugs that can target the type of cancer cells. It will block or prevent cancer cells from growing or making these cancer cells begin destroying themselves.  

What are the differences between targeted therapy and chemotherapy?

Targeted therapy does not work the way that chemotherapy drugs do. There are two ways that it is different, as follow: 

  • Targeted drugs only target cancer cells, but it will not destroy healthy cells. In contrast, chemotherapy drugs will damage both healthy cells as well as kill cancer cells.  
  • The way targeted drug works is by preventing cancer cells from multiplying, so it can help prevent blocking cancer cells from copying themselves and making more cancer cells. On the other hand, chemotherapy only kills cancer cells that are already made. 

How does it work?

Sometimes targeted therapy is known as personalized medicine as it targets specific parts or substances in cancer cells. These targets can differ even for those with the same cancer type. After the patient has undergone biopsy or surgery, different tumor types could be found and require treatment from different targets. To find a specific and suitable target will help match patients with the most effective treatment. 

The classifications of target therapies can be divided into either small or large molecule drug types as follows: 

  • Small molecule drugs are the small size that can enter a cancer cell. It works by targeting a specific substance inside the cell and block it from dividing more. 
  • Large molecule drugs most likely will not fit in a cell. It works by attacking, followed by weakening and destroying proteins or enzymes on the cell surface.  

Different types of targeted therapy

Many different cancer types can use targeted therapies treatment. There are also various types of targeted therapies, including:

  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: This will help block new blood vessels that feed and nourish the cancer cells from growing.
  • Monoclonal antibodies: This will help deliver drugs molecule into the cancer cell to destroy it.
  • Proteasome inhibitors: This type will help kill the structure of cancer cells.
  • Signal transduction inhibitors: This will intervene with cell signals to change the action for the cells. How to get the targeted therapy.

IV Targeted therapy

Some types of targeted therapies are given through an infusion. IV chemo will be injected right into the bloodstream through a catheter. IV targeted therapy is given through these methods: 

  • IV push – the drugs can be given through the catheter, and it will take only a few minutes.
  • IV infusion – the IV infusion can take from about a few minutes to a few hours using an IV pump machine. 


Oral Targeted Therapy

The oral targeted therapy is taken by mouth the same way as other medicines. It is crucial to ensure the patient knows how it should be taken, including the dosages, the time, and how long the treatment lasts. 

Do not hesitate to let the doctor know about any oral targeted therapy problems, including side effects during the treatment. So, the doctor can adjust the treatment plan accordingly. 

Side effects of targeted therapy 

Targeted therapy drugs produce different side effects than chemotherapy treatment. Not everyone will get the side effect; some patients may get little to no side effects. The severity of side effects may vary depending on drugs and persons. Some uncommon side effects could occur, and some can be severe complications. Most of the side effects will subside over time after the treatment has been completed and when the healthy cells begin to recover. However, the period of side effects also varies case by case. 

Skin problems 

  • Burning sensation on the skin 
  • Photosensitivity toward the skin
  • Rashes on the scalp, face, neck, chest, and upper back 
  • Dry or scaly skin on hands and feet 
  • Red, swollen, brittle, and sore fingernails and toenails 
  • Experiencing hand-and-foot syndrome 
  • Thin, dry, and brittle hair 
  • Darkened hair color 
  • Yellowish skin 
  • Dry, red, or distorted eyelids 
Skin problems can vary from mild, moderate to severe changes. The targeted drug will not need to be changed for mild and moderate skin problems. However, for severe changes, the drug therapy dose may need to be adjusted.

Other common and severe side effects

Targeted therapy drugs can also produce other side effects. These side effects are similar to the side effects of chemotherapy drugs, which are: 

  • Feeling nauseous and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Sore at the mouth 
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Coughing 
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Headache
  • Hair loss
  • Organs damaged, including the thyroid gland, liver, or kidneys
  • Allergic reactions (during IV drug treatment)
  • Increased chance of developing certain infections
  • Recurrent cancers 
  • Swelling 
  • Wounds heal slowly 
  • Autoimmune reactions
  • Heart damages  
  • High blood pressure
  • Bleeding or blood clots issues 
Severe side effects include trouble breathing, feeling dizzy, chest or throat tightness, and swollen lips or tongue. 

Safety precautions for targeted therapy 

Oral targeted therapy is usually taken at home, and some could be considered dangerous. Discuss with the doctor if there are any special precautions needed for storing and handling a targeted drug.

Dr Suthida Suwanvecho
Doctor Profile