Targeted therapies for laryngeal cancer

Targeted therapies work differently from chemotherapy. Each drug works in a different way, but they all treat cancer by affecting the way cancer cells grow or divide.

A drug called cetuximab (Erbitux®) can be used to treat some people with cancer of the larynx. It’s given as a drip (infusion) into a vein. This type of targeted therapy is known as a monoclonal antibody.

Cetuximab targets specific proteins (receptors) on the surface of the cancer cells, called epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR). Cetuximab blocks the receptors, which prevents the cells from growing and dividing. It can also make cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiotherapy.

It can be used to treat some people with laryngeal cancers that have started to spread. It is usually given with radiotherapy but can also be given with chemotherapy.

Cetuximab may only be available in some situations. Your cancer doctor can tell you if it’s appropriate for you.

If a drug isn’t available on the NHS, there may be different ways you are still able to have it. Your cancer doctor can give you advice.

Side effects of cetuximab

The side effects of cetuximab are usually 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. This can be a mild, acne-like rash, but some people may have a more severe skin reaction in the area where they have had their radiotherapy. You’ll be given advice on how to look after your skin while you’re having cetuximab.

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Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies can attach themselves to cancer cells to prevent them from growing.