Targeted therapy for lung cancer

New types of drugs known as targeted therapy or personalised medicine target specific mutations within cancer cells and often work by blocking cell growth. In targeted therapy for lung cancer the drugs are generally used for advanced NSCLC (stage IV) or if the cancer has come back (recurred).

Clinical trials are looking at whether targeted therapy is helpful in treating small cell lung cancer.

Different types of targeted therapy drugs are used for advanced lung cancer.

Cancer cells often become resistant to targeted therapy drugs over time. If this first-line treatment stops working, your doctor will suggest trying another targeted therapy drug. This is known as second-line treatment.

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

Which lung cancer-related gene mutations is targeted therapy available for?

Targeted therapy is available for two common gene mutations associated with lung cancer: epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutations.

Some targeted therapy drugs approved for lung cancer include:

  • EGFR – erlotinib, afatinib and gefitinib
  • ALK – crizotinib, ceritinib and alectinib.

Some targeted therapy drugs may be available only through a clinical trial. This area of science is changing rapidly, and it’s likely that new mutations and targeted therapy drugs will continue to be discovered.

Talk to your doctor for more information about new drug trials.

Types of targeted therapy

In Australia, there are currently two main types of targeted therapy used to treat lung cancer: monoclonal antibodies and small molecule inhibitors.

Monoclonal antibodies

  • stop the cancer developing new blood vessels and growing
  • usually given intravenously
  • the drug bevacizumab is given with chemotherapy every 3 weeks

Small molecule inhibitors

  • stop cancer cells growing and multiplying
  • usually given as tablets
  • the drugs erlotinib and gefitinib are used for NSCLC with EGFR mutation
  • the drug crizotinib is used for NSCLC with ALK mutation

Side effects of targeted therapy

Although targeted therapy drugs cause fewer side effects compared with standard chemotherapy drugs, they can still have side effects.

These vary depending on the targeted therapy drugs used, but may include an acne-like rash or other skin changes, diarrhoea, and nausea and vomiting. It’s important to discuss any side effects with your medical team.

Video: What is targeted therapy?

Watch this short video to learn more about targeted and immunotherapy.

This information was last reviewed in November 2016.
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