Free Cancer Report

Cancer FAQs Type

What is Targeted therapy?

Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs designed to “target” cancer cells without affecting normal cells.

Cancer cells typically have changes in their genes that make them different from normal cells. Genes are part of a cell’s DNA that tell the cell to do certain things. When a cell has certain gene changes, it does not behave like a normal cell. For example, gene changes in cancer cells might allow the cell to grow and divide very quickly. These types of changes are what make it a cancer cell.

But there are many different types of cancer, and not all cancer cells are the same. For example, colon cancer and breast cancer cells have different gene changes that help them grow and/or spread. Even among different people with the same general type of cancer (such as colon cancer), the cancer cells can have different gene changes, making one person's specific type of colon cancer different from another person's.

Researchers have also learned that the environment in which different cancers start, grow, and thrive are not always the same. For example, some cancers have certain types of proteins or enzymes send certain messages to tell the cancer cell to grow and copy itself.

Knowing these details has led to the development of drugs that can “target” these proteins or enzymes and block the messages being sent. Targeted drugs can block or turn off signals that make cancer cells grow, or can signal the cancer cells to destroy themselves.

Targeted therapy is an important type of cancer treatment, and researchers will develop more targeted drugs as they learn more about specific changes in cancer cells. But so far, only a few type of cancers are routinely treated using only these drugs. Most people getting targeted therapy also need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy.