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.
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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.
When I was first diagnosed I was put on imatinib, but I had severe side effects so my haematologist put me on dasatinib. I’ve been on this for over eight years with excellent results. As the leukaemia is still detected in the regular blood tests, there’s no plan to discontinue treatment in the foreseeable future.
|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.|
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.
When my non-Hodgkin lymphoma came back I was treated with radiation therapy and then put on rituximab for maintenance therapy. This was of great benefit – I had no worrying side effects and have felt very well in the five years since my last treatment. — Jennifer
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.