Targeted therapy for lung cancer
New types of drugs known as targeted therapy target specific mutations within cancer cells. These drugs can be highly effective, but they will only work if the cancer contains the particular target, and even then, they do not work for everyone.
Targeted therapy is currently available for the most common gene mutations associated with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Approved drugs include afatinib, alectinib, ceritinib, crizotinib, erlotinib and gefitinib. At this stage, targeted therapy drugs are generally available only for NSCLC that is advanced or has come back. Targeted therapy drugs for small cell lung cancer (SCLC) are being tested in clinical trials.
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 oncologist for more information about new drug trials.
Cancer cells often become resistant to targeted therapy drugs over time. If the first-line treatment stops working, your oncologist will suggest trying another targeted therapy drug. This is known as second-line treatment.
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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 – some may cause an acne-like rash or other skin changes and diarrhoea, others may cause nausea and vomiting or swelling.
Less commonly, some targeted therapy drugs affect the way the heart and lungs work, which can be life-threatening, so it’s important to report any side effects to your medical team.
For a detailed list of side effects for a particular targeted therapy, visit eviq.org.au.
For more about how these drugs work, see Targeted therapy.
Video: What is Targeted therapy?
Dr Henry Marshall, Thoracic Physician, The University of Queensland Thoracic Research Centre, The Prince Charles Hospital, QLD; Dr Naveed Alam, Thoracic Surgeon, St Vincent’s Melbourne and Epworth Richmond Hospitals, VIC; A/Prof Martin Borg, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare, SA; Dr Lisa Briggs, Consumer; Kirsten Mooney, Thoracic Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Claire Mulvihill, Lung Cancer Support Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, President, Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group, President Elect, Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, and Senior Staff Specialist, Department of Medical Oncology, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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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.
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