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What is targeted therapy?

Targeted therapy is cancer treatment that uses medicines to attack specific targets or processes of cancer cells. Unlike chemotherapy or radiation treatment, targeted therapy affects only the cancer cells and not the other cells in the body.

Examples of agents used for targeted therapy include:

  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) such as tamoxifen
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) such as imatinib
  • Monoclonal antibodies such as bevacizumab

Why it's done

Targeted therapy can stop cancer cells from growing or spreading by blocking cell signals. It can also kill cancer cells directly. Targeted therapy may also be used to treat cancer that comes back after treatment.

Our approach

At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, we're constantly working on advancements and innovative techniques in targeted therapy, allowing us to continuously improve outcomes. Through our alliance with leading research organization Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, we participate in investigator-initiated trials to offer the most leading-edge, research-backed therapies to patients. 

Northwell Health Cancer Institute is recognized for its commitment to providing pioneering treatment for cancer patients. This ongoing focus has contributed to significant advancements that are improving quality of life for cancer survivors.

Learn more about clinical trials and research happening at Northwell Health Cancer Institute.

What to expect

Targeted therapy is administered by a medical oncologist. Most medicines are given intravenously, and are often given along with chemotherapy, although some may also be used by themselves if chemotherapy is no longer working. The goal of targeted therapy is to prevent the cancer from growing and help the chemotherapy get inside the tumor. If it does, the drug has a better chance to work well.

The approach for targeted therapies may vary. Sometimes treatment is given daily, weekly or monthly and sometimes it's cyclic. By allowing your body to rest between treatments, cycling provides time for your body to recover and construct new healthy cells.

Possible side effects

There may be side effects from targeted therapy, depending on how your body reacts to the treatments. Some of the common side effects are:

  • Liver issues
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Mouth sores
  • Fatigue
  • Issues with blood clotting and wound healing
  • Changes in nails
  • Loss of hair color
  • Skin problems

Most side effects usually go away after treatment ends, but you may feel very tired for four to six weeks after your last treatment. Talk to your doctor about ways to treat the side effects.

Support groups

Cancer is challenging, but you don’t have to go it alone. At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, a wide range of support groups are available to help you cope with diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment issues.

Learn more about support groups.

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