Targeted therapy uses medications to attack specific factors that help cancer grow. They are designed to target certain molecules in the cancer cells. By interfering with these molecules, the ability of the cancer to grow and spread is blocked. They may work when standard chemotherapy drugs have not worked. Current targeted therapy options for lung cancer include bevacizumab and ramucirumab.
Epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) play a role in the development of cells, including cancer cells. Some people who have lung cancer also have a mutation that affects EGFR. Because of this, medications have been created to target the action of this receptor. A tissue or blood test can be done to find out if this mutation exists. If the result is positive, then treatment with this type of targeted therapy may help the prolong survival time. EGFR inhibitors include erlotinib, afatinib, sunitinib, vandetanib, and gefitinib.
Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene mutations are linked to a type of lung cancer that affects both smokers and non-smokers. ALK inhibitors may be useful in shrinking tumors in people with this type of mutation. These drugs include crizotinib and alectinib.
The most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. These medications can also be associated with more serious side effects like lung inflammation, low white blood cell counts, and liver and heart problems.
Biologic therapy (also called immunotherapy) uses drugs to improve the way your body fights cancer. The therapy attempts to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system so that it can identify and fight cancer cells more effectively. It may be used alone or in combination with other treatments. Medications include nivolumab and pembrolizumab.
The most common side effects include joint pain, fatigue, rash, and loss of appetite. The most serious side effects occur when the body's immune system starts attacking its own healthy cells and organs. This can happen anywhere in the body.
Immunotherapy. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/diagnosing-and-treating/immunotherapy.html. Accessed July 28, 2016.
Lung cancer (non-small cell). American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003115-pdf.pdf. Accessed July 28, 2016.
Targeted therapies. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/diagnosing-and-treating/targeted-therapies.html. Accessed July 28, 2016.
Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq#section/_164. Updated July 8, 2016. Accessed July 28, 2016.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
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