Targeted therapy, also known as molecular therapy, is a branch of precision medicine, an emerging and personalized approach to treating cancer. “Targets” are molecular markers in or on specific cancer cells. Targeted therapy creates and then applies drugs that zero in on a particular target while avoiding normal, healthy cells. Some targeted therapies block proteins and other molecules that help cancer cells grow and spread; others boost your immune system to find and destroy cancer cells; still others carry toxins directly to cancer cells and kill them.
In contrast to traditional drug treatments like chemotherapy, which affects all rapidly dividing cells (including those in your hair, digestive system and bone marrow), targeted therapies focus on cancer cells only—thus sparing healthy cells and avoiding some of chemo’s toxic side effects.
Talk with your Sutter Health network medical oncologist about taking advantage of the most current U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved targeted drugs as part of your cancer care plan. Your cancer type may carry specific targets for which drugs already exist. Your doctor also may advise a biopsy to look for tumor markers that correspond to existing targeted drugs.
Sutter Health network physicians currently use the following targeted therapy types:
- Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) bind to proteins on the surface of cancer cells. These mAbs, created to react with specific types of cancer and typically given through an IV, may enhance your immune response, can be programmed to interfere with cell growth factors, can link to and deliver anticancer drugs directly to tumor cells, and can help diagnose certain cancers by carrying radioisotopes to tumor cells.
- Small-molecule drugs enter and work inside cells to block specific enzymes and pathways involved in cancer cell growth; for example, they can inhibit the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors. Small-molecule drugs are usually pills.
- Colony-stimulating factors (CSFs) do not directly affect tumor cells, but instead encourage bone marrow stem cells to divide and develop into white blood cells, thereby reducing infection risk from chemotherapy and stimulating stem cells before stem cell or bone marrow transplants. CSFs can also encourage your body to make red blood cells and platelets, reducing the need for transfusions if you’re receiving chemotherapy.