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Treating Cancer with Targeted Therapy

Targeted Drug Delivery to Cancer Cells via Polymeric Nanoparticles (NCI)


Targeted Therapy Targets the Changes in Cancer Cells that Help Cancer to Grow

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and the search for new and more effective ways of treating it have led to targeted therapy. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines targeted therapy as a way of targeting changes in cancer cells that help them to grow, divide and spread. Most targeted therapy treatments work by targeting certain proteins that nourish the growth of the tumors. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are several ways these targeted treatments against cancer work:

Strengthening and Helping the Immune System

Targeted therapy can strengthening the body’s immune system to destroy cancer cells. Also, the immune system is not always able to detect cancerous cells, but certain targeted treatments can make it easier for the immune system to find the cancer cells in order to destroy them.

Prevent the Growth of Cancer Cells

Normal cells in the body only divide to make new cells when there is a reason to, like replacing worn out or damaged cells and once their job is finished they stop dividing and growing. However, cancerous cells just keep on dividing and growing even where there is no apparent reason for this. Some drugs used in targeted therapy can interfere with the proteins involved in this division process and thus the progress of the disease can be slowed down.

Prevent Signals that help Form Blood Vessels

Cancerous tumors depend on nourishment from the blood supply in order to keep on growing in the body. The tumor actually sends signals to the body to start making new blood vessels to feed the tumor and this process is called angiogenesis. Certain drugs called angiogenesis inhibitors can interfere or block these signals and prevent new blood vessels from forming and thus the tumor remains small or shrinks.

Cancer Killing Substances Delivered to the Tumor

Cancer killing substances are delivered to the outer walls of cancerous cells to kill them, but they do not kill healthy cells.

Targeted Therapies that Cause the Cancer Cells to Die by Themselves

While healthy cells die naturally if they become worn out or are not needed anymore, cancerous cells somehow manage to avoid this natural dying process. Some targeted therapies cause cancer cells to die naturally.

Prevent Hormones Necessary for Tumor Growth to Reach the Cancer Cells

Certain cancers like breast and prostate cancers need certain kinds of hormones in order to grow. For instance many forms of breast cancer need the female hormone estrogen. Some targeted therapies keep the body from producing these kinds of hormones or prevent the hormones from reaching the cancerous cells.

Types of Drugs used in Targeted Therapy

The drugs used in targeted therapy are meant to only attack cancerous cells. Most targeted therapies are small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.

Small-molecule Drugs

Small-molecule drugs are tiny enough so they can enter and find targets inside cancerous cells.

Monoclonal Antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are drugs used for targets on the outside walls of cancerous cells.

Which Cancers can be Treated with Targeted Therapy

Doctors have to decide which patients can benefit from targeted therapy and also which targeted therapy is best suited for the particular form of cancer. In some cases it is already known which drug is best suited for a particular type of cancer, but in other cases a biopsy may be performed to withdraw some of the cancerous tissue, so that it can be analyzed to see which kind of targeted treatment is the most likely to be successful. Some drugs used in targeted therapy are given as pills or capsules to be swallowed, while others are given by IV (a needle that delivers the drug to a vein). Treatments are given periodically depending on the type of targeted therapy and the type of tumor. Some treatments are given for a time followed by a period of rest which gives the body the chance to build new healthy cells.

Downsides of Targeted Therapy

In some cases the cancer cells can become resistant to the drugs and for this reason doctors may use targeted therapy alongside of chemo therapy and/or radiation.

Not every case can be treated with targeted therapy.

Like other cancer treatments, targeted therapy can also cause side effects, although most will go away when the treatment ends. Some of the side effects are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Liver problems
  • Blood clotting problems
  • Wound healing problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin problems like rashes or very dry skin
  • A rare side effect can be a hole that forms through the walls of some of the digestive organs such as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon (bowel), rectum or gallbladder.

Evidence the Targeted Therapy is Working

Periodic checkups, exams, tests and scans will determine if the targeted therapy is working and to what extent it is healing the body of cancer.

When there is a Need for Rehabilitation from Cancer Treatments

The Ditmas Park Rehab and Care Center in Brooklyn, New York has expert therapy and rehabilitation for people after cancer treatments and surgeries. Ditmas also is especially known for its excellent palliative care. Read more about palliative care in our blog post from June 7, 2018.

Brooklyn Hospitals near Ditmas Park Rehab and Care Center

New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn (formerly named NYU Lutheran Medical Center)

SUNY Downstate Medical Center – University Hospital of Brooklyn

NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County

Maimonides Medical Center


Cancer is a disease that can put people on a roller coaster of emotions, as it can go back and forth between remission and relapses. However, new breakthroughs in research may finally lead to a way of preventing it, treating it and curing it.



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