How targeted therapy works

Targeted therapy drugs circulate throughout the body. Each drug acts on a specific molecular target within or on the surface of cancer cells (for example, a gene or protein). These molecular targets are involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells. Blocking them can kill cancer cells or slow their growth, while minimising damage to healthy cells.

Targeted therapy drugs work in a different way to chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy drugs also circulate throughout the body, but they particularly affect cells that divide rapidly. They kill cancer cells, but can also damage other rapidly dividing cells, such as the healthy cells in a person’s mouth, stomach, skin or hair.

Targeted therapy drugs are used to control cancer growth. They often cause the signs and symptoms of cancer to reduce or disappear. This means many people can return to their usual activities. The drugs may need to be taken long-term, and you will need to have regular tests to monitor the cancer.


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


Video: What is drug therapy?

If you have cancer, drug therapy may play a big role in your treatment plan. Watch this short video to learn more about drug therapies, including targeted therapy and immunotherapy.


This information was last reviewed in June 2018
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