Targeted therapy drugs are officially classified as biological treatment. They do not operate the same way that chemo does. In recent years, medical research has shed light on some of the primary differences in cancer cells that enable them to grow and spread. This information led to the development of specialized drugs to target these differences and treat cancer precisely.
In order to determine the optimal targeted therapy for a particular cancer, a biopsy will generally be performed to test for targets. Targeted therapy can be used alone, but it is more often used in conjunction with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Depending on the specific type and stage of your cancer, your cancer team at Sheba Medical Center will design your total treatment plan. We will also consider how the cancer is affecting your overall health and well-being in order to customize your therapies.
As cancer treatment research continues and advances, new and better targeted therapies are being engineered continuously. At Sheba, our skilled scientists and oncologists are leading the way in the clinical application of cutting-edge targeted therapies.
Diseases Treated by Targeted Therapy
At Sheba, we offer targeted therapy for the following types of cancer:
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Adult
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Adult + Children
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Adult + Children
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Adult + Children
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), Adult + Children
- Hodgkin Lymphoma, Adult + Children
- Multiple myeloma, Adult
- Myelofibrosis, Adult
- Leukemia (ALL), Children
- Osteosarcoma, Children
- Retinoblastoma, Children
- Astrocytomas, Children
- Neuroblastoma, Children
- Ewing’s sarcoma or Ewing sarcoma, Children
- Wilms’ tumor, Nephroblastoma, Children
- Glioma, Children
- Medulloblastoma, Children
- Rhabdomyosarcoma, Children
Side Effects of Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapies can cause a range of side effects, although not every patient gets every side effect and some people do not experience any at all. The severity of these side effects varies widely, depending on the specific drug and the individual. Although many of the side effects can be very uncomfortable, it is essential to remember that the less extreme ones should be measured against the need to fight your cancer.
Prior to your treatment, your medical team at Sheba will inform you about the specific targeted therapy drugs that you will be given and the possible side effects. We will also monitor you closely throughout your entire course of treatment. It is important that you inform our doctors about any side effects or changes in how you feel, so we can treat any problems and help to mitigate any discomfort.
Many of the same side effects that are seen with standard chemotherapy drugs are also associated with some targeted therapy drugs, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, mouth sores, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, hair loss, and increased risk of certain infections.
Other side effects of targeted therapies may include:
Targeted therapies attack the same blood vessels and growth factors that your body needs to maintain healthy skin. Prior to starting treatment, you are advised to switch to gentle, chemical- and fragrance-free soaps and shampoos. It is typical to experience:
- Rashes that itch or burn
- Sensation of a bad sunburn (even if nothing is noticeable)
- Extreme sensitivity to sunlight
- Very dry skin that may crack open
- Painful sores on your fingernails and toenails
- Sores on your scalp; hair loss or changes in hair color
- Red and swollen eyelids
High Blood Pressure
Your Sheba medical team will keep close watch on your blood pressure if you are taking one of the targeted therapy drugs, such as angiogenesis inhibitors, which can raise blood pressure. Sometimes it is necessary to take medication to lower blood pressure to safe levels.
Bleeding or Problems with Blood Clotting
Certain types of target therapy drugs interfere with the growth of new blood vessels, which can lead to problems with bleeding and bruising. If internal bleeding occurs, such as from the stomach or intestines, it can be life-threatening. If you vomit blood or dark matter (resembling coffee grounds), or see black stools or bright red blood in your stools, notify your doctor immediately.
Some types of drugs can also cause blood clots in your legs and lungs, as well as lead to a heart attack or stroke. If you suffer chest pain or sudden shortness of breath, have pain in the arm or leg, or experience a seizure – seek emergency medical care.
Slow Healing of Wounds
Targeted therapy drugs may interfere with the healing of wounds. They can also lead to perforations (holes) opening up in the intestine or stomach, which causes pain or vomiting.
In some people, targeted therapies trigger the immune system to attack healthy parts of the body. This is relatively uncommon, but can be very serious.
Inflammation around the eyes and in the face may occur. Sometimes swelling in the feet, legs, and hands also happens. Treatment isn’t always necessary, but a diuretic may be prescribed in extreme cases.
How Do Targeted Therapy Drugs Work?
Cancer cells have many changes in their DNA (genes) that makes them distinct from healthy cells. For example, these changes might cause the cell to grow or divide more rapidly than normal. However, there are many different kinds of cancer, and the gene changes in each type can be different. Targeted therapy drugs focus on some of these changes and aim to attack them. Sheba’s doctors will analyze your test results to determine which type of targeted therapy will achieve the most effective potential outcome.
There are two primary categories of targeted therapies, small molecule medicines and monoclonal antibodies. Small molecule drugs are minute enough to enter the cancer cells directly and destroy them from within. Monoclonal antibodies, which are larger, work from the outside. They attack targets on the external surface of the cells or surrounding them.
Different targeted drugs function in different ways, such as:
- Signal transduction inhibitors, the most common targeted drugs, block the signals that instruct cancer cells to rapidly divide.
- Gene expression modulators function to change the proteins that regulate how the genes in cancer cells get carried out abnormally
- Immunotherapies utilize your natural immune system to destroy cancer cells, either by boosting the immune system so it is more effective or by marking cancer cells so they are more easily identified
- Hormone therapies stop your body from producing the hormones that some cancers, such as breast and prostate, need to grow
- Angiogenesis inhibitors block the creation of new blood vessels that feed the cancer cells; these drugs can cut off blood supply to a tumor
- Apoptosis inducers cause cancer cells to follow the normal process of dying when they are old or damaged (cancer cells can often bypass this natural process)