Making the Decision to Have Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer
Targeted therapy uses drugs that specifically target gene changes in cells that cause cancer or help them to grow. These drugs work differently than typical chemotherapy drugs and have different side effects.
Your doctor may suggest you have targeted therapy along with standard chemotherapy, or by itself in some cases. Two types of targeted therapy drugs are currently used in lung cancer treatment.
Some drugs target the blood vessels that nourish tumors, and help slow or block their growth. A drug called Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a monoclonal antibody. This is a synthetic type of a specific immune system protein that targets the growth of blood vessels. Bevacizumab can only be taken intravenously (IV). It is typically used along with chemotherapy. Side effects of this drug can include bleeding, high blood pressure, appetite changes, poor wound healing, and a higher risk of blood clots. The risk of bleeding from this drug limits its use in certain types of lung cancer.
Another group of drugs target a protein found on the surface of cells called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Normally, EGFR receives signals that tell cells to grow and divide. But in some lung cancer cells, there are too many copies of EGFR, which results in faster growth of the tumor. A drug called erlotinib (Tarceva) blocks the signals from EGFR to the cells. Erlotinib is taken daily as a pill. Another drug that targets EGFR is cetuximab (Erbitux). It is a monoclonal antibody that can only be taken IV. Side effects of these drugs can include a rash on the face and chest, diarrhea, appetite changes, and fatigue.