Targeted treatment targets the damaged genes or proteins of cancer cells to stop the cancer from growing and spreading.
What is targeted treatment?
Targeted treatment uses medications to target specific genes or proteins either inside cancer cells or on their surface.
Each medication blocks a specific ‘target’, for example, a damaged gene or protein, on or within a cancer cell.
Blocking these targets can kill cancer cells or slow their growth. The signs and symptoms of cancer reduce or disappear, and damage to normal cells is minimal.
Cancer is a disease of the body's cells. It starts in our genes. Our bodies are constantly making new cells, a process controlled by certain genes. Cancers are caused by damage to these genes. As the damaged cells replicate a lump or tumour is formed.
Tumours can be:
- Benign - not cancerous. These do not spread to other parts of the body.
- Malignant - cancerous
How targeted treatment works
Targeted treatment medication travels through the bloodstream.
Each medication blocks a specific target, for example, a damaged gene or protein, on or within a cancer cell.
Blocking these targets can kill cancer cells or slow their growth. The signs and symptoms of cancer reduce or disappear, and damage to healthy cells is minimal.
When is targeted treatment used?
Targeted treatment only works if a cancer cell has the gene or protein that the medication is trying to block – so it isn’t given to everyone.
Targeted treatment may be used:
- after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that are left
- to treat advanced cancer that hasn’t responded to other treatment
- to try to stop the cancer from coming back
- to treat cancer that has come back
Your treatment team will offer the best treatment for you based on the type and stage of cancer as well as your general health.
This means that even if someone else has the same cancer type as you, you may receive different treatments.
Before any treatment begins, make sure that you have discussed and understood your treatment team's advice. You may ask for a second opinion if you want one.
Side effects of targeted treatments
The side effects you may have will be different depending on what type of targeted treatment you have.
Common side effects are:
- a rash that looks like acne on the face, scalp or upper body
- tenderness and blisters on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet
- skin problems including dry, flaky skin and sensitivity to sunlight
- feeling sick (nausea)
- heavy bleeding
- high blood pressure
Less common side effects are:
- increased risk of infection
- changes in how the heart, thyroid, or liver works
Using other medications or treatment
When targeted treatments are used with other medicines or supplements (e.g. vitamins and herbal medicines), it can cause harmful side-effects.
It is important to let your treatment team know about any other medicines or supplements you are taking. This includes traditional medicines.
It is also a good idea to talk with your treatment team before having any vaccinations.
Using complementary or traditional healing
Sometimes people with cancer might think about using complementary therapies or traditional healing.
Some alternative, complementary and traditional healing methods may react with the treatment you receive and cause harmful side-effects.
It is important to talk to your treatment team about any other therapies you’re using or thinking about because they may interfere with hospital treatment.