New types of drugs known as targeted therapy are designed to attack specific changes within cancer cells. Targeted therapy for head and neck cancer works differently from chemotherapy drugs. While chemotherapy affects all rapidly dividing cells and kills cancerous cells (cytotoxic), targeted therapy drugs affect specific molecules within cells to block cell growth (cytostatic).
A number of targeted therapy drugs are being tested for head and neck cancer in clinical trials. One targeted therapy drug called cetuximab is available in Australia for head and neck cancers, when people cannot take the standard chemotherapy drug. Cetuximab is a monoclonal antibody that binds to the surface of cancer cells and stops them growing and dividing. When used to treat head and neck cancer, it is used with radiation therapy.
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Video: What is targeted therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about targeted and immunotherapy