Challenges of targeted therapy
While many people respond well, targeted therapy is suitable for only a small number of cancers.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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This information was reviewed by: Dr Fiona Day, Medical Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, University of Newcastle, NSW; Dawn Bed , 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Jennifer Cardwell, Consumer; Christine Henneker, Nurse Practitioner Cancer Services, WA Country Health Service, WA; Dr Rohit Joshi, Medical Oncology Consultant, Calvary Central Districts Hospital, and Clinical Lecturer, University of Adelaide, SA; Prof Ross McKinnon, Director, Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer, SA; Prof Miles Prince, Haematologist, Director of Molecular Oncology and Cancer Immunology, Epworth HealthCare, VIC; Prof Ben Solomon, Medical Oncologist, and Group Leader, Molecular Therapeutics and Biomarkers Laboratory, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Subotheni Thavaneswaran, Medical Oncologist, The Kinghorn Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital, and Translational Research Fellow, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, NSW; A/Pro Kathy Tucker, Clinical Cancer Geneticist, Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre, NSW.
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Targeted therapy is a type of drug treatment that attacks specific features of cancer cells, known as molecular targets, to stop the cancer growing and spreading. Other names for targeted therapy include biological therapies and molecular targeted therapy.