After a cancer diagnosis the first thing most people want to know is how to best treat cancer and hopefully beat the disease. Depending on the type of cancer, the stage, and other factors, a physician may present a number of cancer treatment options. While sometimes the treatment path is clear and obvious, other times a decision must be made between treatment options. One type of treatment that may be discussed is targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is a different approach to cancer treatment than some more traditional forms of chemotherapy. The American Cancer Society explains what exactly targeted therapy is, “Most standard chemotherapy (chemo) drugs work by killing cells in the body that grow and divide quickly. Cancer cells divide quickly, which is why these drugs often work against them. But chemo drugs can also affect other cells in the body that divide quickly, which can sometimes lead to serious side effects. On top of this, chemo drugs don’t always work against cancer, or sometimes they stop working after a while. Targeted therapy drugs work differently. These drugs target certain parts of cancer cells that make them different from other cells. (Or they target other cells that help cancer cells grow.) Cancer cells typically have many changes in their genes (DNA) that make them different from normal cells. These gene changes might cause the cell to make too much of a certain protein, which in turn might make the cell grow and divide too quickly. These types of changes are what make it a cancer cell… Targeted drugs zero in on some of the changes that make cancer cells different. But just as cancer cells can have many different gene changes, these drugs can attack many different targets. This affects which cancers they might be helpful against, as well as which side effects each drug can cause. Some targeted drugs are more “targeted” than others. Some might target only a single abnormal protein in cancer cells, while others can affect several different proteins in cancer cells. Others just boost the way the body fights the cancer cells. Again, this can affect where these drugs work and what side effects they cause.”
As previously mentioned, there is not just one kind of targeted therapy. The different kinds of targeted therapy are primarily twofold: small molecule drugs and monoclonal antibodies. Small molecule drugs are orally taken and are easier for the body to absorb. They block specific enzymes that encourage cancer cells to grow. Mayo Clinic offers a description of what monoclonal antibodies are, “A monoclonal antibody is a laboratory-produced molecule that’s carefully engineered to attach to specific defects in your cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies mimic the antibodies your body naturally produces as part of your immune system’s response to germs, vaccines and other invaders.” But, is targeted therapy as effective as other forms of cancer treatment? The National Cancer Institute reported the findings of a clinical trial that tested targeted therapies, “Patients with advanced forms of a rare type of pancreatic cancer may have new, effective treatment options. According to results from two phase III clinical trials, the targeted therapies sunitinib (Sutent®) and everolimus (Afinitor®) increased the length of time patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (panNET) survived without the disease progressing. And, in the sunitinib trial, patients who received the drug also had better overall survival. The findings were published February 9, 2011, in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).” And, these findings are only a portion of the findings regarding how effective targeted therapies are. When discussing your cancer treatment options with your physician, consider discussing targeted therapies as a potential treatment.