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Targeted or biological therapies| are treatments that work by targeting specific proteins that are found either on the surface of cells or within the cell itself.
There are several different types of targeted therapy. The type used will depend on where the cancer first started.
Monoclonal antibodies| are drugs that recognise certain proteins (called receptors) on the surface of cancer cells.
They lock onto the receptor and can destroy cancer cells in different ways depending on the drug. Some stop new blood vessels forming, while others may trigger the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.
Some cancers that spread to the liver can be treated with monoclonal antibodies.
Trastuzumab (Herceptin®)| can be used to treat breast cancer that has spread to the liver. It may also sometimes be used to treat stomach (gastric) cancer that has spread to the liver.
Cetuximab (Erbitux®)| can be used in combination with chemotherapy to treat bowel cancer that has spread to the liver.
Bevacizumab (Avastin®)| is another monoclonal antibody that may sometimes be used to treat secondary liver cancer that has spread from the bowel. However, bevacizumab is not currently approved by NICE| or the SMC (Scottish Medicines Consortium)|. These are government bodies that give guidance to doctors about whether drugs should be used on the NHS. This means that bevacizumab is not in general use but may be offered as part of a trial.
Panitumumab (Vectibix®)| is a third type of monoclonal therapy that may help to treat cancer that has spread from the bowel. The use of panitumumab is still being assessed by NICE and the SMC. As a result, it may not be widely available on the NHS.
In order to grow and divide, cancer cells ‘communicate’ with each other using chemical signals. Cancer growth inhibitors| interfere with this process and so affect the cancer’s ability to develop. Research is being carried out to see if cancer growth inhibitors, such as gefitinib (Iressa®)|, can help to treat cancer that has spread from the lung. They may be offered as part of a research trial|.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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