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Targeted drugs

Targeted drugs are becoming more common in cancer treatment. An increasing number of anti-cancer drugs are based on specific abnormalities in the structure and function of cells in a particular tumour type.

Targeted drugs target a specific function or component in the cancer cell

Targeted drugs target a specific function or component in the cancer cell. They often have the advantage of having fewer side effects than chemotherapy and radiotherapy because the drug only targets cancer cells.
There are different types of anticancer drugs. They are grouped according to their mode of action. These include

  • monoclonal antibodies
  • cancer growth inhibitors
  • drugs that inhibit the growth of cancer blood vessels
  • PARP inhibitors

The use of targeted medicines requires a thorough investigation of the function of cancer cells to find suitable targets. This is nowadays done at the stage of cancer detection.
Anticancer therapy is often given in combination with chemotherapy or hormonal anti-cancer drugs. Anticancer drugs are now used to treat cancers such as blood cancers, breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancers, lymphomas and bowel cancer. They are the first-line treatment for some cancers, such as advanced melanoma and certain leukaemias.
They are not suitable for all cancers. For example, a specific medicine that affects a particular gene will only work if the gene is active in that cancer.

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