Targeted therapy is an innovative type of cancer treatment that destroys tumors with exceptional precision. While other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can potentially damage healthy cells along with cancerous ones, targeted therapies only interfere with cells that have specific molecular characteristics.
There are several different molecular targets that can play a role in targeted therapy. Typically, these targets are specific proteins that help cells divide or help tumors develop their own blood vessels to facilitate rapid growth. These proteins are present in cancerous cells, but not in healthy ones. A common example of a molecular target is the HER2/neu protein, which is present in around 30 percent of breast cancer tumors.
Targeted therapies have the unique ability to find cells that have specific proteins while leaving noncancerous cells (which do not have the proteins) unaffected. For instance, in the case of breast cancers that have the HER2/neu protein, a drug called Herceptin can locate and attack any cells with this molecular marker throughout a patient’s body. Although targeted therapies do not actually destroy cancerous cells, they can block the proteins from functioning as intended and ultimately prevent the cancer from growing.
Because healthy cells are not damaged by targeted therapies, these treatments tend to cause fewer side effects than standard cancer treatments. Other advantages of targeted therapy include:
- Patients often experience better quality of life outcomes.
- Patients with certain characteristics may have improved survival outcomes (longer periods of progression-free survival).
- Oncologists are better able to personalize each patient’s treatment plan based on the unique cellular makeup of his or her tumors. Unlike chemotherapy, it is easier to predict whether a patient will respond to a specific targeted therapy based on a molecular analysis of his or her tumor.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our expert oncologists can review a patient’s specific diagnosis and cellular pathology reports to determine if targeted therapy might be an appropriate option for his or her needs. We offer targeted therapies for a number of different cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia. We also offer patients access to some of the newest targeted therapies through our clinical trials program.