January 04, 2023
Traditional treatments for cancer- such as chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are effective but have multiple side effects that impact the quality of a patient’s life. This is because traditional cancer treatment therapies cannot distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells. As a result, the healthy cells also get damaged and destroyed along with cancerous ones - during treatment. Cancer patients also usually suffer from extreme fatigue, hair loss, and infections as side effects of treatment which take a toll on their physical and mental health. It also makes it difficult for caregivers to manage things. For this reason, more cancer treatment centers are now offering targeted therapy for cancer with the help of advanced technology.
The goal of targeted therapy is to eliminate or slow down the growth of cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells. It enables oncologists to personalize cancer treatment by tailoring drugs to the genetic characteristics of a patient’s tumor or cells. Therefore, it reduces treatment-related side effects and improves post-treatment outcomes.
Targeted therapy drugs are generally prescribed as pills or administered through an IV line.
Based on the patient's medical condition, there are different types of targeted therapies for each type of cancer. However, there are seven basic types of targeted therapy most commonly prescribed for cancer treatment. They are as follows:
Signal transduction inhibitors – Interrupt the false signals that cancer cells get which eventually lead to continuous cell divisions. In this way, they can control the spread of cancer significantly.
Hormone therapies - Control hormone production and are specifically used on hormone-sensitive tumors to slow or stop their growth. They have shown a high success rate in treating hormone-related breast and prostate cancers.
Apoptosis inducers - Generally induce a process of controlled cell death called apoptosis in cancer cells. Some cancer cells often stay hidden, and this process helps the body to get rid of those hidden abnormal cells.
Angiogenesis inhibitors - Help block the growth of new blood vessels in tumors. As a result, it prevents the growth of tumors and reduces the risk of new ones developing.
Gene expression modulators - Adjust the function of proteins that control gene expression. A few cancers are caused by incorrect gene expression, and these modulators help turn off (or on) the problem genes.
Immunotherapy - Influences the immune system to eliminate cancer cells. This process also involves monoclonal antibodies, which recognize specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells.
Monoclonal antibodies - Sometimes used to carry a toxic molecule into the cancerous tumor to avoid additional damage to other tissue.
Cancer develops once the genes of a healthy cell change, and the cells start to divide quickly and multiply rapidly. When this happens, the cells live much longer and grow out of control, eventually forming a tumor. Genetic changes in cells, also known as mutations, can occur due to hereditary factors. Otherwise, it also happens because of several risk factors such as age, sun damage, smoking tobacco, etc. Regardless of how the mutation forms, targeted therapy works the same way - through a process known as next-generation sequencing.
During this process, a small tissue sample is taken from the tumor or cancerous area for testing. Researchers then test the tissue to identify the specific genetic changes that help a tumor grow and change. This genetic change is known as the drug's 'target'. Usually, the target is a protein found only in cancer cells and not in healthy cells. Once researchers have identified the change, they develop a drug treatment that attacks it, reducing the risk of affecting healthy cells. Due to this reason, the same targeted therapy can be used for different cancers if the targeted protein is the same for them.
The drugs used in targeted therapies can eliminate the target in these few different ways:
Blocking or turning off signals that help cancer cells grow and divide
Preventing cells from living longer than usual
Destroying cancer cells
Cutting off the hormones that contribute to cancer
Delivering cell-killing substances to specific cancer cells
Preventing the body from creating blood vessels that help tumors to grow
Triggering the immune system to target and attack cancer cells
In order to find the most effective targeted therapy, oncologists may ask for multiple tests to get details about the genes, proteins, and other factors unique to a patient’s cancer. But like other treatments, targeted therapies can cause side effects. The dose of medication delivered via targeted therapy is determined by several factors, such as body weight, underlying health conditions, etc. Therefore, it is crucial that the doctor has a detailed medical history of the patient.
Although targeted therapies have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy or radiation therapy, be prepared to deal with a few health issues. The common side effects of targeted therapy include:
Liver problems, including hepatitis
Skin issues including rashes, dry skin, and depigmentation
Fever and chills
Slow wound healing and blood clotting
Swelling in different body parts
Elevated blood pressure
If an oncologist is recommending targeted therapy for cancer, don't hesitate to ask questions to better understand the process of treatment, the chances of success, and the risks in detail. This is particularly important if a patient is considering enrolling in a clinical trial. Visit ACTC or contact us to schedule an appointment for more details.