Understanding Different Treatment Types: What is Targeted Therapy?

Targeted therapies are one type of medicine used to treat cancer. Although there have been many new medicines in the category approved over the past decade, we have used some since the 1970s. Targeted therapies are not available for every type of cancer, but in some cancer types like breast, kidney, and prostate cancers, targeted therapies have become a standard treatment. Your doctor will help you determine if you are eligible to receive targeted therapy and if it is recommended for you.

What Exactly is Targeted Therapy?

Targeted therapies are medicines used to destroy cancer by blocking certain pathways it needs to grow. Cancer cells are often stuck in a “grow” mode, and these drugs stop the cancer cells from continuing to grow. Targeted therapies are different from traditional chemotherapy because they work on specific pathways rather than all the cells in your body.  

To know if targeted therapies will work for your cancer, you will need to have special testing.   This type of testing is done with a blood sample or from tissue from the cancer, usually from a biopsy or surgery. 

Targeted therapies have different side effects than traditional chemotherapy. Side effects of targeted therapies can include diarrhea, mouth sores, changes to blood work, skin/hair/nail changes, high blood pressure, and others. As with any medicine, there can be more serious side effects. 

How is Targeted Therapy Used?

Targeted therapies can be given alone or in combination with other medicines. They may be given as an infusion into a vein or in pill form that you take at home. If you will be taking the pill form, it is important to take it as prescribed by your cancer care team. Tell them if you are having any problems getting your medicine or having side effects.  

Questions to Ask Your Oncologist

  • Do targeted therapies work in my disease? 

  • Will I be getting a targeted therapy? 

  • Will it be given alone or with another medicine? 

  • What are the most common side effects? 

  • When should I call your office with concerns? 

  • How often is my treatment given? 

  • Is there anything I should be careful about while on my targeted therapy? 

  • How can I find out how much the medicine will cost?