CHC – The Cancer & Hematology Centers

Targeted Therapy for Cancer

Targeted therapy is a relatively recent cancer treatment that is constantly developing as researchers learn more about what causes these cells to grow.

This gives you access to a treatment that might work where standard chemotherapy drugs might not, and that is less toxic to your healthy cells.

If your oncologist has recommended targeted therapy for cancer as part of your treatment plan, this information will help you understand what to expect and the type of cancers CHC can treat with it.

What Is Targeted Therapy for Cancer?

Targeted therapy uses medicine to attack the proteins that control how cancer cells grow, divide, and spread throughout the body. Where traditional cancer treatments are designed to kill all cells that divide quickly—even those that aren’t harmful or cancerous—targeted therapy only goes after specific proteins that help tumors grow. This ultimately leads the tumor cells to stop growing or even shrink.

Doctors often use targeted therapy to treat several different types of cancer, including specific types of breast, colon, kidney, liver, and lung cancers. While they can be very effective for these types of cancers, they cannot treat all variants.

If your doctor recommends targeted therapy for your cancer treatment, they may also combine it with immunotherapy, surgery, or traditional methods like radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Benefits of Targeted Cancer Therapy

Targeted therapy for cancer has a few benefits for those who are eligible to receive it. Although the specific success rates can vary depending on the type of cancer you have, it is a generally effective treatment for many people.

One of the most notable benefits is that targeted therapy can kill cancer cells without damaging your body’s healthy cells, making it a more precise method of treating the disease. It can also prevent cancer cells from growing more than they already have.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend you as a candidate for targeted therapy when other cancer treatments haven’t been effective.

Side Effects of Targeted Therapy

Just like virtually every other type of cancer treatment, there are some side effects associated with targeted therapy. Some of the short-term side effects of targeted therapy for cancer can include:

  • Issues with blood clotting
  • Jaundice (yellowish skin)
  • Mouth sores
  • Changes in the hair and nails
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Itchy rash
  • Dry skin
  • Rare infusion reaction

In addition, there are some long-term targeted therapy side effects to know about. They include:

  • Bald patches or hair loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis

However, there are ways to keep these side effects from becoming a long-term issue. While your doctor may recommend different treatment methods based on your unique situation, you may want to eat foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D, avoid tobacco products, and maintain a physically active lifestyle during and after treatment.

How Does Targeted Therapy Work for Cancer?

Your cancer care team may recommend targeted therapy for your diagnosis either early in the process or after you’ve undergone other types of cancer treatment, depending on your specific case. 

There are two types of targeted cancer therapy and multiple types of medicines within both types, all of which are meant to attack specific parts of a cancer cell. Some of these targets can be on the surface of the cell, while others may be proteins inside the cell.

In general, this is what you can expect during the process of undergoing targeted cancer therapy.


Shortly after your diagnosis, your oncologist or other healthcare provider may need to take a biopsy, or a small sample of your tumor or draw your blood. They will work with a pathology lab to look for specific changes in your genes or proteins within your cancer cells that would make you a good candidate for targeted therapy.


Once your cancer care team receives results from your biopsy, your doctor will diagnose the specific type of cancer you have. Your oncologist will also tell you about the type of targeted cancer therapy and specific drugs they recommend to treat your cancer. Your Nurse Navigator will also help you understand what these treatments will mean for you and what you can expect.

At this point, your cancer care team may recommend one of two common kinds of targeted therapies:

  • Monoclonal antibodies: Sometimes considered a form of immunotherapy, monoclonal antibodies use your immune system’s antibodies to mark the cancer cells and their proteins so your white blood cells can attack them more effectively.
  • Small-molecule drugs: During targeted therapy, small-molecule drugs enter the cancer cells and attach to the proteins or other targets inside, which kills the cells or prevents them from growing.

Along with these targeted therapies, you might receive chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or other treatments that will kill or shrink the cancer cells.

Drug Prescription

Most targeted therapy drugs for cancer are delivered by taking a pill you swallow, as a shot that’s injected under your skin, or through an IV line that gets hooked up to a vein in your arm or wrist. 

While every situation is different, your oncologist might schedule you to receive targeted therapy drugs every day, several times a week, once a month, or at other frequencies depending on their treatment recommendations. They might also recommend periods when your doctor recommends you take a break from your therapy regimen.

There are several types of drugs your cancer care team might use, depending on the type of cancer you have. These drugs may include:

  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: Everything in your body has blood vessels that give them the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive, including cancer cells. Your cancer cells send out signals using proteins and hormones to keep their blood vessels growing out of control. Angiogenesis inhibitors block these signals from reaching the rest of your body, choking the cancer cell and forcing it to shrink and die.
  • Proteasome inhibitors: Proteasomes are like a stomach inside your cells—they digest the proteins located inside the cancer cell and allow it to continue growing efficiently. Proteasome inhibitors cut off your proteasomes, so your cancer cells die when they no longer have proteins to digest.
  • Signal transduction inhibitors: Every one of the trillions of cells in your body uses a messaging system with proteins. This system of proteins allows the cell to grow, survive, and communicate with other cells, even if it’s a cancer cell. However, signal transduction inhibitors block the proteins from being able to communicate with each other, causing the cancer cells to die. 
  • Poly(ADP)-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors: Normally, PARP proteins and BRCA repair the damaged DNA inside your cells together. However, a mutation in BRCA genes can cause the BRCA protein to stop working like it’s supposed to. PARP inhibitors make it hard for cancer cells to use their abnormal BRCA to keep growing, meaning they often die when PARP is no longer present.

Other types of targeted therapy drugs for cancer deliver cell-killing toxins only to the cancerous cells, kill cancer cells directly, or otherwise starve the cancer cells of hormones they need so they can no longer grow.


After you’ve undergone a few rounds of your targeted therapy treatment, your cancer care team will run some tests and scans to see how the cancer is responding to the medications. In some cases, this might require having an MRI, a CT scan, X-rays, blood tests, and other types of testing to see how treatment is working for you.

This can happen anywhere from a month after your treatment starts to a few months, depending on your situation.

Depending on the results of your scans, your oncologist may recommend you for additional rounds of targeted therapy, other types of treatment, or recommend that you stop targeted therapy altogether.

Types of Cancer Targeted Therapy Can Treat

Targeted therapies for cancer can treat multiple different types of disease, without attacking your body’s healthy cells. However, it’s important to remember that targeted therapy isn’t always the best choice for all types of cancers, or even specific types of cancers. 

Although the cancers listed below are often good candidates for targeted therapy, your doctor might recommend against them based on your specific situation.

Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer

Up to 20 percent of breast cancers include a protein called HER2, which causes the cancer to grow and spread more easily than types without the protein. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to respond better to targeted therapy than those that are HER2-negative. Monoclonal antibodies are commonly used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer because they can stop the cancer cells from growing.

In addition, roughly three-quarters of breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive, meaning the female hormones estrogen and progesterone allow them to grow out of control. Certain types of targeted therapy drugs can block hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells from dividing, making hormone therapy more effective.

For patients with BRCA mutations in their genes, there are also specific types of proteasome inhibitors that allow your cancerous cells to die by removing the protein allowing them to grow.

In most cases, targeted therapy for breast cancer is delivered through pills you take by mouth once per day. However, depending on the type of breast cancer you have, you may be given medication by IV alongside chemotherapy drugs.

Prostate Cancer

Targeted therapy for prostate cancer typically involves using PARP inhibitors to treat aggressive forms of prostate cancer that are resistant to hormone therapy that lowers testosterone levels. They are often used side by side with hormone therapy or surgery.

In most cases, targeted therapy drugs for prostate cancer are given as pills either once or twice per day, but your specific regimen may change depending on your doctor’s recommendations.

Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer

Used specifically for non-small cell cancers, targeted therapy for lung cancer typically treats advanced disease. It’s often used either by itself or along with chemotherapy.

Angiogenesis inhibitors are often used to slow and stop the growth of blood vessels in lung cancer tumors. Other treatments can target cells with specific gene changes and mutations that allow the cancer to grow faster. Your oncologist may recommend a blood or saliva test to determine which type of targeted therapy is best for you.

Pancreatic Cancer

Although research is still underway on the efficacy of targeted therapy for pancreatic cancer, there is some promise for this type of treatment. Certain, specific types of pancreatic cancers can respond to daily or twice-daily pills alongside or after chemotherapy drugs. Talk to your oncologist about the type of pancreatic cancer you have and whether or not it may respond to targeted therapy.

Pancreatic cancer often has a severe outlook and prognosis. If you have been diagnosed with this disease, CHC strongly encourages you to enroll in clinical trials to help you find the best possible treatment for you.

Targeted Therapy for Cancer at CHC

CHC provides a customized approach for the best treatment possible when you come to us for cancer care. We also provide you with cutting-edge targeted therapy for cancer, including options still in clinical trials.

Your oncologist may recommend you for targeted therapy if you have previously undergone chemotherapy. Otherwise, they may recommend you for combined targeted therapy with hormone therapy or surgery, depending on the type and progression of your disease.

Compassionate Care

Chances are, you’re coming to CHC at one of the most challenging points in your life. Our staff knows that. That’s why every member of our staff has the same priority: Taking care of you and your family, so you feel supported through every step of your cancer treatment.

Every member of our team will take time to answer your questions and listen to your concerns, both physical and emotional, with compassion. We’re here to help you focus on healing and aim to provide you with compassionate care.

Talk to Our Staff Today

No matter which type of cancer treatment your oncologist recommends for you, your cancer care team will support you during every step of your journey to recovery. To learn more about targeted therapy and other cancer treatment options, reach out to us at 800-411-7999 today.