Targeted Therapy


Finding out you have cancer is frightening, but your odds of beating it are better than ever before. Survival rates are rising because scientists continue finding better ways to treat cancer and detect cancer earlier.

One newer treatment you may have heard of is targeted therapy. This is a group of drugs designed to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. Targeted therapy keeps cells from dividing, and destroys them directly.

What is Targeted Therapy?

Targeted therapies are newer types of therapy that are more precise in the way they attack cancers cells.

Most chemotherapy drugs can’t tell the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells, so they kill both. Targeted therapies, on the other hand, aim for specific components inside your cells that help cancer grow and spread. This means they hurt cancer cells while leaving more healthy cells alone.

Not everyone is a candidate for these types of treatment, but your doctor can order special testing to see if you are eligible for targeted therapy.

If you’re eligible for targeted therapy, your treatment plan will depend on several factors. These include the type of cancer you have, and which targets were identified by the tests your doctor ordered. Targeted therapy may be the only treatment you need, or it may be combined with other chemotherapy agents, surgery or radiation therapy.

Immunotherapy: A Type of Targeted Therapy

One promising type of targeted therapy is a group of drugs called immunotherapy agents. These include Yervoy, Opdivo, Tecentriq and Keytruda. They work by telling your body's immune system to fight the cancer in your body.

Immunotherapy medications have already been approved for use among multiple types of cancer, and many more are currently being tested through clinical trials. These drugs are helping improve quality and quantity of life for many people, and many have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapies.

Check with your Mercy doctor to see if you qualify for immunotherapy, or are eligible for one of the many immunotherapy clinical trials we offer.

Benefits of Targeted Therapy

Different targeted therapies offer different benefits. Depending on your treatment goals, your drug(s) may be used to:

  • Block or turn off signals that tell cancer cells to grow or multiply.
  • Alter proteins within cancer cells that cause those cells to die.
  • Prevent new blood vessels from forming, which cuts off blood supply to your tumor.
  • Tell your immune system to attack the cancer cells.
  • Deliver toxins that kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

What to Expect During Targeted Therapy Treatment

Your Mercy care team will make sure you understand what to expect before, during and after targeted therapy. For example:

  • Targeted therapy drugs may cause side effects. These commonly include rashes and other skin changes, diarrhea, high blood pressure and problems with blood clotting or wound healing.
  • Some targeted therapy drugs may harm a fetus. Women must take steps to avoid becoming pregnant during treatment.

Many targeted therapy drugs have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – and many more are still being tested by researchers. If you’re not eligible for an approved drug, you may be able to try an experimental one by participating in a clinical trial. Your care team can help you explore this option.

At Mercy, we realize newer cancer treatments can feel both exciting and intimidating. We’ll take the time to answer your questions, address your concerns and make sure you feel comfortable and informed before starting any new therapy.

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