What is targeted therapy?

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When performing standard chemotherapy to treat cancer, the chemo medicine will naturally spread throughout the body. But unfortunately, the drug distribution is not limited to the cancerous areas, healthy areas will be effected by the chemo medicine as well. therefore, general chemo has strong side effects, and is not particularly successful as a therapy. And as researchers have learned more about the differences in cancer cells (or other cells near them) that help them grow and thrive, they have been able to develop drugs that target these differences. These drugs is often called Targeted Therapy.

Targeted therapy-Click to zoom

For example, many targeted drugs go after the cancer cells’ inner workings— which is the programming that sets them apart from normal healthy cells. These drugs tend to have different (and less severe) side effects than standard chemo drugs. Therefore, targeted therapy is a special type of chemotherapy that takes advantage of small differences between normal cells and cancer cells. It’s sometimes used alone, but most often other cancer treatments (Such as local/natural treatments) are used with the targeted therapy.​ 

How targeted therapy works?

Most standard chemotherapy (chemo) drugs work by killing cells in the body that grow and divide quickly. Cancer cells divide quickly, which is why these drugs often work against them. But chemo drugs can also affect other cells in the body that divide quickly, which can sometimes lead to serious side effects. On top of this, chemo drugs don’t always work against cancer, or sometimes they stop working after a period of time.

While targeted therapy is used to keep cancer from growing and spreading. Normal cells go through a process called carcinogenesis to become cancer cells. Cancer cells may then grow into tumors or reproduce throughout a body system. Scientists have learned a lot about the molecules that are part of this process and the signals a cell gets to keep this process going. Thus, targeted therapy disrupts this process. The drugs target certain parts of the cell and the signals that are needed for a cancer to develop and keep growing. These drugs are often grouped by how they work or what part of the cell they target.

Targeted drugs come in 2 main forms:​

  • Monoclonal antibody drugs are man-made versions of large immune system proteins (called antibodies) that are designed to attack a very specific target on cancer cells (or other cells). These types of drugs are sometimes referred to as biologics because they are made in living cells. The generic names for these drugs (as opposed to the brand names) all end in -mab; for example, rituximab, panitumumab, etc.
  • Small-molecule drugs are chemicals like most other types of drugs. They are not antibodies. Since antibodies are large molecules, these other drugs are sometimes called small-molecule targeted drugs. The generic names for most of these drugs end in -ib; for example, imatinib, dasatinib, etc.


Targeted cancer therapies such as targeted molecular therapy give medical oncologists a better way to customize cancer treatment. Advantages of molecularly targeted therapy include:

  • Less harm to normal cells
  • Fewer side effects
  • Improved effectiveness
  • Improved quality of life


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