Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that halts the growth and division of cancer cells through medicine that blocks the specific molecules that cancer cells use for growth and survival. There are two main types of targeted therapy:

  • Therapy with monoclonal antibodies. You can find out more about this type of targeted treatment in the information section about immunotherapy.
  • Therapy using small molecule drugs that stop the signals inside of the cancer cells that regulate growth, cell division and survival. This kills the cancer cells, or stops their growth. The medicine works from inside of the cells.

Most small molecules are administered as pills. The molecules can be used in various different ways, and can even be combined with chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. This form of treatment is currently seeing rapid developments: through a multitude of studies, researchers are looking into the best ways to use the treatment type, and which tumor types can benefit from it.

More information

Treatment with monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced proteins (antibodies) that can recognize specific proteins on the surface of the cancer cells (antibodies fighting the tumor).

The antibodies attach themselves to these cancer proteins, marking them for the immune system. Cells from the immune system then bind to the antibodies on the cancer cells and can now destroy the cancer cells.

Antibodies aimed at the tumor itself will stop the cancer cells from growing by destroying the proteins responsible for cell growth. These antibodies can also target the immune system itself to stimulate the fight against cancer cells.

Targeting gastrointestinal stromal tumors with small molecules

When targeting gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), targeted treatment can be delivered prior to the surgery so a less invasive type of surgery can be used, or – if the tumor size was initially too large to be operated on – to ensure that surgery is a treatment option at all (neoadjuvant treatment). The molecules can also be administered after surgery to increase the chances of recovery (adjuvant treatment).

GISTs are usually treated with molecules when they are metastatic and have spread throughout the body. The molecules slow the progression of the disease for a certain period of time, which will diminish the symptoms and prolong life. This will not cure the cancer (palliative treatment).

Targeting kidney cancer or melanoma with small molecules

When targeting kidney cancer or melanoma, the small molecules are often used if a tumor is metastatic and has spread throughout the body. The molecules slow the progression of the disease, which will diminish the symptoms and prolong life. This will not cure the cancer (palliative treatment).


Side effects

The exact side effects you will experience depend on the type of treatment, the way your body responds, and the disease that is being treated.

You may experience a skin rash, high blood pressure, changes in cardiac efficiency, protein leakage in the urine, or edema around the eyes, behind the lungs, or in the legs.

After your treatment

During and after your treatment, you will regularly be examined at our outpatient clinic so we can monitor your response to the treatment and help you with any side effects you might be experiencing. In case you do not respond to the treatment, your primary physician will discuss your options with you. These depend on your personal situation. 

You and your loved ones could also consider visiting our Survivorship Center to further discuss your situation and illness, or for support in your acceptance of the illness and its consequences.