Understanding targeted therapies
What is targeted therapy?
Also known as biological therapies and molecular targeted therapy, targeted therapy is a type of drug treatment for cancer that attacks specific cancer cells to stop the cancer growing and spreading.
Other drugs may be used instead of, or together with chemotherapy to target particular types of cancer cells while minimising harm to healthy cells. These are called targeted therapies.
Targeted therapies have different actions to help destroy or stop the growth of cancer cells. Not all cancers respond to targeted therapies, and some of these therapies are only available in clinical trials. Talk to your doctor for more information.
There are several types of targeted drug therapies for cancer:
Angiogenesis inhibitors – for cancer cells to grow and spread from their primary site to other areas of the body, they need to make their own blood vessels. Drugs known as angiogenesis inhibitors attack developing blood vessels so that the cancer can’t grow and spread.
Enzyme inhibitors – these drugs may block certain proteins or enzymes that tell cancer cells to grow. They are sometimes called small molecule drugs.
Apoptosis-inducing drugs – apoptosis means cell death. These drugs target the part of the cancer cell that tells it when to die.
Immunotherapies (also called biological therapies) strengthen the immune system so it finds and kills cancer cells. There are two types of immunotherapy:
Active immunotherapies – therapies that stimulate your immune system to fight infection and disease. You might be given a vaccine to make your body produce antibodies to fight cancer.
Passive immunotherapies – using man-made (synthetic) antibodies developed in a laboratory to get your immune system to fight cancer cells.