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Targeted therapies interfere with the way cancer cells grow. They are sometimes used to treat head and neck cancers.
Most squamous cell cancers of the head and neck have proteins called epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs) on their surface. When chemical messengers in the body (called growth factors) attach to these receptors, it stimulates the cancer to grow.
Cetuximab stops the growth factors from attaching to receptors on the cancer and so may stop it growing. It may also make the cancer more sensitive to the effects of radiotherapy.
The side effects of cetuximab are generally mild. Some people have flu-like symptoms such as a headache, fever, chills or dizziness when the infusion is being given.
You’ll be given medication before the infusion to reduce the risk of this happening.
The most common side effect is a skin rash. It usually starts within two weeks of having the first treatment but goes away once treatment is over. You’ll be given advice on how to look after your skin while you’re having cetuximab.
Content last reviewed: 1 November 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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