The changes in cancer cells and their behaviour allow them to grow, multiply and spread abnormally. As the researchers understand more about these changes that prompt cancer growth, they will be able to design effective therapies that precisely target such changes or block the unhealthy effects due to such changes. One such approach of treatment is targeted therapy.

The behaviour of Cancer Cells

The behaviour of cancer cells is quite complicated with many complexly arranged factors and the aim of targeted therapy is to have a better understanding of those factors.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is the mode of treatment for cancer cells using drugs that target specific markers, genes or proteins on cancer cells and the environment that contributes to cancer growth and the cells related to cancer growth. In a nutshell, the objective of targeted therapy is to identify and target cancer cells precisely (precision medicine) without affecting the normal healthy cells.

Targeted Therapy Stops cancer cells from growing

Healthy cells in your body usually divide to make new cells only when they receive strong signals to do so. These signals bind to proteins on the cell surface, telling the cells to divide. This process helps new cells form only as your body needs them. However, some cancer cells have changes in the proteins on their surface that tell them to divide irrespective of whether the signals are present. Some targeted therapies interfere with these proteins, preventing them from telling the cells to divide. This process helps slow cancer’s uncontrolled growth.

Targeted therapy treatment is focussed and works differently from chemotherapy in the following ways:

  • Some drugs attack certain genes
  • Some drugs target proteins
  • Some drugs target certain markers on cancer cells
  • Some drugs target growth factors that help in the growth of the cancer cells
  • Some drugs do not allow the development of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in cancer cells.
  • Some drugs target some signals that prompt cancer growth
  • Some drugs block essential nutrients to cancer cells and starve them to death.

Bottom Line

The drugs used in targeted therapy are either small-molecules that can easily enter cells and attack the targets that are present inside the cells (the cellular activities) or they can act on the surface of cells by attaching to specific targets on the cell surface. Certain drugs target cancer cells by blocking the signals that help them to grow and multiply; some drugs don’t allow cancer cells to live longer and kill them. Certain drugs block specific growth factors. Thus, these drugs help stop cancer cells from growing and spreading. Before planning or initiating targeted therapy your doctor may order specific tests to identify certain genes, proteins and other factors in cancer.