Targeted therapies interfere with the way cells grow and divide. Cetuximab is the most commonly used targeted therapy to treat head and neck cancers.

Targeted therapies interfere with the way cells grow and divide.

They may be used to treat some head and neck cancers:

  • in combination with radiotherapy, for people who are not fit enough to cope with the side effects of chemoradiation
  • as part of a clinical trial in combination with chemoradiation
  • with palliative chemotherapy.

The most commonly used targeted therapy to treat head and neck cancer is cetuximab (Erbitux). A nurse gives you cetuximab as a drip (infusion) into a vein.

Your doctor will explain more about the type of targeted therapy treatment you are having and it’s likely side effects. A type of targeted therapy called immunotherapy may also be used to treat some head and neck cancers.

Cetuximab

Most squamous cell cancers of the head and neck have proteins called epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs) on their surface.

Cetuximab prevents chemical messengers called growth factors from attaching to the EGFRS.  This can help stop the cancer cells growing.

Cetuximab may also make the cancer more sensitive to the effects of radiotherapy.

Side effect of cetuximab

The side effects of cetuximab are generally mild but some can be more serious. Always tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects you have.

Some people have flu-like symptoms when the infusion is being given, such as:

  • headaches
  • fever
  • chills
  • dizziness.

Your nurse will give you medication before the infusion to reduce the risk of this happening.

The most common side effect is a skin rash. It usually starts within 2 weeks of having the first treatment but goes away when treatment finishes. Your nurse will give you advice on how to look after your skin while you are having cetuximab.