Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy, sometimes called precision medicine or personalized medicine, is a cancer treatment that precisely targets and attacks cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone which reduces side effects and allows doctors to use more potent drugs.

Targeted Therapy To Treat Cancer

The newest class of cancer drug —targeted therapy—also called molecularly targeted therapy or precision medicine, utilizes an approach to cancer treatment based on the genetic profile of a patient or their specific disease. Most notably, cancer cells from a tissue biopsy or a blood specimen are evaluated for abnormalities (also known as mutations) that cause cancer and can serve as targets to treat cancer to achieve the best outcome for the patient. 

Molecular testing can also be used to help make a more accurate diagnosis in complex cases or help patients learn if there is a risk of cancer that runs in their families. Once an actionable mutation is identified, a treatment can be designed to target the cancer. Traditional chemotherapy drugs attack all fast-growing cells in the body; however, targeted therapies have the ability to identify and attack just cancer cells. This means less damage to healthy cells and fewer side effects than seen with standard chemotherapy.

Targeted therapies attack the genetic molecules—usually proteins—that allow cancer cells to survive, multiply, and spread. The key to targeted therapy is the ability to identify cancer cells and avoid healthy cells. 

Targeted therapy drugs are used at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers to treat numerous types of cancer, including breast cancer, colon (colorectal) cancer, gynecologic cancers, leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, ovarian cancer, and lung cancer (especially NSCLC) among others. However, not all cancers are receptive to targeted therapy. Patients will need to undergo tests to find out if their cancer has the gene mutations that make it likely to respond to targeted therapy.

Precision medicine can be used to:

  • Identify those at high-risk for cancer
  • Find cancers at an early stage
  • Make a more accurate diagnosis
  • Determine best treatment options
  • Evaluate how treatment is working

How is Precision Testing Formed?

There are multiple ways to perform biomarker or gene testing. Testing can be done on tissue removed during a biopsy or through a liquid biopsy using saliva, blood, or bodily fluids. Be sure to let your doctor know you’d like to receive genetic testing so they can determine the best approach and the right test.

Types of Targeted Therapies

Some targeted therapy drugs identify proteins found in cancer cells that are not present in normal cells. Others target cells with mutant proteins or chromosomal abnormalities that are only found in cancer cells.

There are many different forms of targeted therapies, with the most common targeting cancer cells by:

  • Blocking mutated proteins that create cancer cells
  • Turning off the chemical signals that allow cancer cells to grow and divide
  • Preventing blood vessels from feeding cancer cells, causing them to die

Misconceptions about Precision Therapies

  • Molecular testing is too expensive: False. Expanded insurance coverage and financial assistance programs from testing laboratories have put next-generation sequencing within reach for most patients. Generally, patients will not pay more than a few hundred dollars out of pocket, in addition to pathology charges.
  • Access to Precision Medicine is too limited: False. Currently there are only a few dozen FDA-approved treatment options for all mutation-driven diseases, but advancements are rapidly occurring. Many clinical trials are done with patients who have specific types and stages of cancer, and now with specific biomarkers as a condition, as well.

If you still have questions about targeted therapy, please use the patient portal, Navigating Care, to message your site. Select the message type treatment.