Targeted therapy refers to a kind of cancer treatment that is used to target only the cancer cells and does not affect the normal cells. It is used to treat certain specific types of cancers. Certain gene changes in cancer cells allow them to grow and divide very quickly. These changes make it a cancer cell. These cells are very different from normal cells.
However, there are different types of cancer. The cancer cells also differ in type. Even in the same general type of cancer, the cells may have different gene changes among different people, which help cancer to grow/spread rapidly. This makes one person’s cancer completely different from another person’s (even if they have the same general type of cancer).
Targeted therapy for cancer is an important cancer treatment as it ‘targets’ the proteins or enzymes attached to the cancer cell, which send messages to it to grow quickly. Researchers are still learning about the changing mechanism in the cancer cells; hence only a few targeted drugs are developed as of now. Along with targeted therapy, cancer patients also require surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
How is targeted therapy different from chemotherapy, and how does it work?
Though considered chemotherapy, targeted therapy differs from standard chemotherapy in two major ways. They are:
- Chemotherapy affects all the cells (cancerous as well as healthy), which can damage healthy cells apart from killing cancer cells. On the other hand, as the name suggests, targeted therapy targets only cancer cells and leaves the healthy cells alone.
- Chemotherapy kills the cancer cells that have already been made, while targeted therapy blocks these cells from dividing themselves and making new cancer cells.
Targeted therapy is less toxic than chemotherapy as it does not affect healthy cells. Also known as precision medicine or personalised medicine, targeted therapy is made to target certain specific substances in cancer cells, such as:
- Excess of certain proteins on a cancer cell
- A protein on a cancer cell that is absent in normal cells
- A mutated protein on a cancer cell
- Gene (DNA) changes absent in a normal cell
Targeted drugs can work in the following ways:
- Block chemical signals in the cancer cells
- Change proteins in the cancer cells which leads to cell death
- Cease making new blood vessels to feed the cancer cells
- Carry toxins only to the cancer cells to kill them, not the healthy cells
- Activate your immune system to kill cancer cells.
Scientists have come up with several types of targeted therapies, each with its own set of properties and mode of action. Some of the targeted therapies are as follows:
Monoclonal antibodies are the drugs that attack some specific targets around the cancer cell or on its outer surface to destroy it. Some monoclonal antibodies can also aid in targeting chemo and radiation straight to the cancerous cells.
Signal transduction inhibitors
These are the most commonly used targeted therapy drugs. Cells work on signaling systems to divide and grow. These therapies disrupt these signals by latching onto the cells and stopping them from dividing uncontrollably.
Gene expression modulators
In cancer cells, the expression of genes is faulty. These targeted therapy drugs alter the proteins that instruct the genes to get expressed in an abnormal way.
Some types of cancers are hormone-dependent and need hormones to grow, such as some breast cancers and prostate cancers. The targeted therapy that acts on these types of cancers to prevent their growth is called hormone therapy.
Nature predisposes all unhealthy or old cells to die through a mechanism called apoptosis. However, cancer cells avoid this mechanism and grow uncontrollably. Apoptosis inducers are the targeted therapy that induces cell death in cancer cells.
Usually, cancer cells find out a way to skip screening of the immune system. Immunotherapy is the type of targeted therapy where drugs mark these cancer cells so that the immune system can recognise and kill them. Others boost up your immune systems to better fight cancer cells.
These targeted therapy drugs disrupt the normal functioning of the cell, making them die.
All cells, including cancer cells, need nutrients to grow, which are supplied by the blood vessels. Through targeted therapy, medicines inhibit the growth of blood vessels, thereby cutting off the nutrition of cancer cells. These starved cancer cells then slowly die, getting you rid of cancer.
The targeted therapy side effects may vary from person to person. Some common side effects are as follows:
- High liver enzymes or hepatitis
- Dryness of skin
- Changes in the nails
- Itchy and burning rash on the skin
- Extreme sensitivity to UV light
- Baldness/ loss of hair
- Loss of hair colour
- Red, swollen eyelids
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Changes in the rhythm of the heart
- Neurological changes
- Soreness in mouth
- Issues with clotting of blood and healing of the wound
- In rare cases, the formation of a hole is possible through the wall of the stomach, small intestine, oesophagus, large intestine, rectum, or gallbladder.
Though there are medicines for many of these side effects which prevent them, targeted therapy side effects usually go away a few months after the treatment stops.
What is the cost of targeted therapy?
Depending on the total cycles of treatment and the stage of cancer, the approximate cost of targeted therapy for cancer is Rs. 20 lakhs.
Though the targeted therapy success rate for cancer varies significantly, it is a very effective cancer treatment. More and more research is going on targeted therapy for cancer as doctors are trying to decode cancer’s genetic instruction book. This treatment has opened new vistas of hope and optimism for patients battling cancer.
If you need to know about this therapy in detail for yourself or a family member, visit CK Birla Hospital. It is a leading institution in India that offers targeted therapy and various other cancer therapies for improving the quality of life of cancer patients at their state-of-art facility.
The doctors here are a team of experts who are available for the patients 24×7. They put the happiness and comfort of the patient on top. The hospital has the best oncology department with the latest facilities and technologies to manage these cases and the expertise of doctors who have conducted numerous surgeries.
Visit CK Birla Hospital and meet our expert doctors. Book an appointment now.