Targeted therapy and immunotherapy
Some people with cancer of unknown primary (CUP) may be offered targeted therapy. This is a type of drug therapy that attacks specific features of cancer cells to stop the cancer growing and spreading. Many targeted therapy drugs are given by mouth as tablets, but some are given by injection.
Learn more about:
- Is targeted therapy suitable for you?
- Side effects of targeted therapy
- Immunotherapy for CUP
- Video: What are targeted therapy and immunotherapy?
Is targeted therapy suitable for you?
Only a small number of CUP tumours will be suitable for targeted therapy. Your doctors will need to test the cancer to see if the cells have a particular cell change that is helping the cancer grow.
Side effects of targeted therapy
Targeted therapy drugs minimise harm to healthy cells, but they can still have side effects. These side effects vary greatly depending on the drug used and how your body responds.
Common side effects of targeted therapy include:
- skin rashes
- joint aches
- bleeding and bruising
- high blood pressure.
For more on this, see our general section on Targeted therapy.
Immunotherapy for CUP
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Sometimes the results of specialised tests on a CUP tumour may suggest that immunotherapy could help to treat the cancer.
The usefulness of immunotherapy for CUP is still being tested, so it is not funded on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for CUP. However, it may be accessed on the PBS if test results strongly suggest that you have one of the cancer types for which it is funded (e.g. lung, kidney or bladder cancer). Ask your specialist for more information.
For more on this, see our general section on Immunotherapy.
It is important to tell your treatment team about any side effects you have from drug therapies. Side effects can be better managed when reported early. You may be given medicine to prevent or reduce side effects. Sometimes, your doctor may delay treatment or reduce the dose to lessen side effects.
You may be able to get other drugs to treat CUP through clinical trials. Ask your doctor about recent developments and whether a clinical trial may be an option for you.
Video: What are targeted therapy and immunotherapy?
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 and immunotherapy.
Podcast: Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy
Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, and Director, Clinical Research in Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Amey Aurangabadkar, Radiologist, Illawarra Radiology Group, NSW; Clare Brophy, Consumer; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, NSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Network, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Wendy Cooper, Senior Staff Specialist, Tissue Pathology and Diagnostic Oncology, NSW Health Pathology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Chloe Georgiou, Oncology Research Fellow, Australian Rare Cancer Portal, and Oncology Trials Fellow, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Susan Harden, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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