Challenges of targeted therapy

While many people respond well, targeted therapy is suitable for only a small number of cancers.

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Will it work?

The cancer must contain the particular molecular target or the drug won’t work. However, even if the cancer is shown to contain the target, there is no guarantee the drug will kill the cancer cells. The response to targeted therapy varies widely depending on the cancer type and molecular target. In some cancers, four out of five people assessed as suitable for a particular targeted therapy drug will respond.

Some cancer cells can become resistant to the targeted therapy even if it works at first. If this happens, another type of targeted therapy or another treatment may be offered.

How do I know targeted therapy is working?

You will have regular check-ups with your doctor, blood tests and different types of scans to see whether the cancer has responded to treatment.

If the treatment is working, the cancer will stop growing. A good response from targeted therapy will make the cancer shrink. In some cases, the cancer remains stable, which means it doesn’t grow in size on scans, but also does not shrink or disappear. People with stable disease can continue to have a good quality of life.

How much will it cost? 

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) subsidises the cost of many prescription medicines, including some targeted therapy drugs. The PBS has approved a number of targeted therapy drugs for use in Australia, under specific circumstances and for certain cancers. Medicines or treatments that are not on the PBS are usually very expensive, however, you may be able to access them as part of a clinical trial.

How do I access it?

Ask your oncologist or haematologist if there is a suitable targeted therapy drug for you. Targeted therapy drugs are becoming more available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for specific cancers including melanoma, bowel cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer. You will need a test to see if you are suitable for one of these drugs.

Many more targeted therapy drugs are being studied in clinical trials. Talk with your doctor about the latest developments and whether you are a suitable candidate. For more information on clinical trials, call 13 11 20 or see Clinical trials.

Listen to a podcast on New Treatments – Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy

This information was last reviewed in June 2018
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