Targeted therapy uses drugs to find and attack cancer cells. There are many different types of targeted therapy.

What are targeted therapies?

Targeted therapy uses drugs to find and attack cancer cells. There are many different types of targeted therapy. Each type targets something in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive.

You can read more about the most common types below. A targeted therapy can belong to more than one of these groups. For example, a monoclonal antibody may also block cancer cell growth. So it may also be called a cancer growth inhibitor. Some types of targeted therapy are also an immunotherapy.

If you know the name of the drug you are looking for, you can use our list of targeted and immunotherapy drugs to find it. This gives more information about:

  • what each treatment is
  • how it is given
  • possible side effects.

Types of targeted therapy

Angiogenesis inhibitors

Tumours need a blood supply to survive. Without a good blood supply, the tumour does not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs. This may slow the tumour’s growth, or sometimes cause it to shrink.

Angiogenesis inhibitors block the chemical signals that cells use to make blood vessels grow. This makes it difficult for a tumour to develop the network of blood vessels it needs to get a blood supply.

Cancer growth inhibitors

Chemical signals tell cells in the body how and when to develop and divide. Cancer growth inhibitors make it difficult for cancer cells to receive these signals. By blocking the signals, these drugs may stop cancer cells from developing or dividing. This may slow the growth of a cancer.

Monoclonal antibodies

All cells have receptors on their surface. Receptors help cells send or receive signals. A receptor is a bit like a lock. Only the right key fits the lock. Another cell or substance can only connect to the receptor if it is the right fit.

Monoclonal antibodies are made so they can only connect to one type of receptor. Most monoclonal antibodies target receptors that are mainly found on cancer cells. Some target receptors that are found on other cells in the body.

By connecting to the cell’s receptor, a monoclonal antibody could:

  • block signals that tell cancer cells to grow and divide (also called a cancer growth inhibitor)
  • block signals that help cancer cells develop a blood supply (also called an angiogenesis inhibitor)
  • block signals that stop white blood cells attacking cancer cells (also called a checkpoint inhibitor)
  • help the immune system recognise cancer cells (also called an immunotherapy)
  • block signals to protect the bones from damage causes by some types of cancer or cancer treatments – for example, denosumab (Xgeva®, Prolia®)
  • carry a chemotherapy drug straight to the cancer cell.

A monoclonal antibody may also carry radiation directly to the cancer cell. This treatment is not widely used and may only be available as part of a research trial (clinical trial).

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