Targeted therapies and immunotherapy for oesophageal cancer

Targeted therapies interfere with the way cells grow and divide. Immunotherapy uses the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells.

What are targeted therapies?

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

Targeted therapy drugs are sometimes used to treat advanced oesophageal cancer.


Sometimes a targeted therapy drug called trastuzumab is given with chemotherapy to treat advanced oesophageal cancer.

Trastuzumab only works for people with an oesophageal cancer that has high levels of a protein called HER2. Only people with an adenocarcinoma can have this. Tests can be done on tissue taken at a biopsy or during surgery to find out if the cancer cells have high levels of HER2.

Trastuzumab attaches to the HER2 proteins on the surface of the cancer cells. This stops the cancer cells from dividing and growing.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy treatments use the immune system to find and attack cancer cells. Some types of immunotherapy are also a targeted therapy.

You may be offered immunotherapy drugs such as nivolumab, or pembrolizumab. These are not widely available through the NHS. When a drug is not available through the NHS it may still be possible to have it in some situations. Your cancer doctor can tell you more about this.

Immunotherapy treatment has been shown to be helpful for treating a few different cancers. Currently, immunotherapy is not commonly used to treat oesophageal cancer. But you may be offered it as part of a clinical trial. Doctors are also testing other targeted therapy drugs in clinical trials.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 31 December 2019
Next review: 30 June 2022

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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