Managing side effects of targeted therapy

Although targeted therapy minimises harm to healthy cells, it can still have side effects. These vary greatly for each person depending on the drug you have and how your body responds. Some people don’t experience any side effects, while others have several.

Learn more about:

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

Possible side effects

Targeted therapy drugs commonly cause skin problems, for example:

  • sensitivity to sunlight, skin redness, swelling and dry, flaky skin
  • a rash that looks like acne or pimples on the face, scalp or upper body (acneiform rash)
  • a skin reaction on the palms and soles causing tenderness and blisters (hand-foot syndrome).

Other common side effects include fever, tiredness, joint aches, nausea, headaches, diarrhoea, heavy bleeding and bruising, and high blood pressure.

Less commonly, some targeted therapy drugs can affect the way the heart, thyroid or liver works, or increase the risk of getting an infection.

  — Patricia

Some people can react to the infusion process (e.g. difficulty breathing, nausea and skin rashes). Reactions can occur during or several hours  after the infusion. You will be monitored and may be given medicine to help prevent this. Reactions  are more common with the first infusion, so it may be given more slowly than later treatments.

Managing side effects

Your health care team will monitor you while you are taking targeted therapy drugs. Side effects can sometimes begin within days of starting treatment, but more commonly they occur weeks or even months later. Your treatment team can help you manage any side effects.

Side effects may last from a few weeks to a few months. Most are temporary and will improve once you stop taking the drug; however some may be permanent. In some cases, your treatment team will reduce the dose of the targeted therapy drug to see if that helps ease the side effects.

Many side effects of targeted therapy drugs may need to be managed differently. For example, skin reactions may be more severe or last longer than with other types of treatment, and you may be prescribed an antihistamine or steroid cream to help with the itching and dryness.

Targeted therapy drugs can interact with many common medicines and cause harmful side effects. It is important to let your doctor know about any other medicines or supplements you are taking so they can check for any known interactions. It is also a good idea to talk with your cancer specialist before having any vaccinations.

  — Jennifer

Let your treatment team know about side effects

As targeted therapy drugs have the potential to cause serious life-threatening side effects, such as heart and lung complications, it’s important for your treatment team to monitor your response. Ask the doctor or nurse which side effects to watch out for or report, and who to contact after hours.

Side effects can be better managed when they are reported early. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medicine to prevent or reduce them. If they are not treated, side effects may become serious, and treatment may need to be stopped for a period of time. Once the side effects have gone away, you may be able to restart the targeted therapy on an adjusted dose, or try a different drug.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Targeted Therapy

    Understanding Targeted Therapy

  • 128 kB

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in June 2018
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum

Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono legal and financial matters, no interest loans or help with small business

Cancer information

Living with advanced cancer
Coping with cancer that has spread and making treatment decisions

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends