How does targeted therapy work? Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez defines targeted therapy and shares how this personalized treatment approach attacks lung cancer cells.
Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez is Associate Director of Community Outreach – Thoracic Oncology at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Health System. Learn more about Dr. Rodriguez, here.
What is targeted therapy and who might it be right for?
Dr. Estelamari Rodriguez:
So, targeted therapy kind of falls under the umbrella of precision medicine, where if you find a genetic driver, a mutation that is making that cancer grow. And out there we have drugs, we already have nine that are targeting specific genetic changes.
The targeted therapy is really that treatment, either a pill, or an injection that goes after the genetic driver. And that, in a way, I describe to patients like you have a switch that went on and caused the cancer growth, and now with the targeted therapy we can put that switch off. And those treatments are very important because as they have evolved, they have kind of fill the gaps that chemotherapy had for patients. So, the one thing about targeted therapy is that because you’re going after one specific change, many times they’re less toxic.
So, cytotoxic chemotherapy to kill lung cancer cells has to unfortunately kill a lot of good cancer cells in your body, specifically red cells, white cells, and platelets. So, that your body has to recover from all this normal tissue that dies, the normal cells that get impacted by the cytotoxic chemotherapy. In targeted therapy there is side effects, but a lot of them are decreased compared to chemo.
And they’re really going after cells that have this mutation. So, preferentially you’re attacking the cancer and not the whole body. So, that’s an extra advantage for patients. And as we have patients live longer on these treatments, toxicity, and cause, all these things are really critical so that we develop better drugs that are even more specific targeting only what needs to be targeted and cause less side effects.