Targeted Cancer Therapies

Thomas Semrad, MD, MAS, FACP, Medical Oncology and Hematology
Thomas Semrad, Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology

Cancer treatment has changed a lot in the last few years. One of the major changes is the development of targeted cancer therapies. These medications treat cancer in a different way from traditional chemotherapy. Chemotherapy typically acts to kill rapidly dividing cancerous and normal cells. Targeted cancer therapies act on specific genes or proteins that are critical for the growth or spread of cancer.

Targeted drugs may work in multiple different ways. For example, a targeted drug may block signals that tell the cancer to grow and divide, or stop the cancer from making new blood vessels, or even carry a toxin to the kill a cancer cell but not normal cells. An exciting recent type of targeted cancer therapy stimulates the immune system to fight the cancer.

The target for a specific targeted therapy may not be present in all tumors. Therefore, the same treatment does not work for everyone. This means that a test may need to be performed to determine if the target is present prior to starting treatment. Using the status of a gene, protein, or other factor in a person's cancer to choose a targeted cancer therapy is sometimes called precision cancer medicine.

Targeted cancer therapies do have some limitations. Sometimes a drug treatment is difficult to develop for a particular target because of the way the target is used by normal cells. Also, cancer cells can become resistant to a targeted therapy. Developing ways to prevent a cancer from becoming resistant to a targeted cancer therapy is one of the main goals of ongoing cancer research.

Many targeted cancer therapies are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat specific types of cancer. There are also many ongoing clinical trials to study new targeted therapies. The side effects of targeted cancer therapies are different from traditional chemotherapy and they can be severe. Frequent side effects of targeted agents are skin rashes and abnormal laboratory tests. However, the side effects of each drug largely depend on what that drug targets.

The Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center team is excited to make these new targeted therapies available for cancer patients in our community.

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