Facts about Targeted Chemotherapy for cancer

What is Targeted Chemotherapy?

Targeted chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to attack specific areas within cancer cells or directly around them. It kills cancer cells or it stops them from growing and spreading. Targeted chemotherapy attacks only the cancer cells. It can be used to treat many kinds of cancer.

Here are the facts about Targeted Chemotherapy for cancer

How does targeted chemotherapy work?

Targeted chemotherapy works by attacking (targeting) specific proteins, genes, or other components that help a cancer cell to grow. The drugs may do this in various ways, such as:

  • Blocking or turning off the cell signals that make cancer cells grow, multiply, or divide.
  • Helping the body’s defense system (immune system) to fight cancer cells.
  • Starving cancer cells by blocking hormones.
  • Carrying poisons (toxins) directly to the cancer cells to kill them.
  • Stopping the forming of new blood vessels that would supply the cancer cells.

How is targeted chemotherapy different from traditional chemotherapy?

Targeted chemotherapy kills only the cancer cells in your body. Traditional chemotherapy can kill any cells that grow and divide quickly, including normal and healthy cells. Targeted chemotherapy goes after the inner parts of cancer cells to destroy them. The drugs are designed to tell the difference between a normal cell and a cancer cell.

How is targeted chemotherapy given?

Targeted chemotherapy drugs are usually given in the form of a pill or through an IV tube that is inserted into a vein.

What are some common side effects of targeted chemotherapy?

Targeted chemotherapy can have various side effects. Your possible side effects will depend on how your body reacts to the drugs. The specific type of treatment that you have will also affect your risk for side effects.The most common side effects are:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Liver problems.
  • Constipation.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.

Other side effects can include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Problems with wound healing and blood clotting.
  • Infections.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Skin, hair, and nail problems, such as:
    • Rashes.
    • Blisters and peeling.
    • Dry skin.
    • Nail changes.
    • Hair losing its color.

How to manage the side effects from targeted chemotherapy?

Your health care provider can help you come up with ways to manage any side effects based on the type of targeted treatment that you are receiving. In general, some common methods for controlling side effects include:

  • Taking medicines to prevent, manage, or treat side effects such as diarrhea.
  • Sleeping 7–8 hours each night.
  • Using gentle skin cleansers and moisturizers that do not contain fragrance, dyes, or alcohol.
  • Avoiding the use of very hot water when taking a bath or a shower.
  • Wearing loose, comfortable clothing and shoes.
  • Do not forget sunscreen and protective clothing to avoid sun exposure when you are outside.

What nutritional changes should I make while on targeted chemotherapy?

You may need to make changes in what you eat while you are on targeted chemotherapy. Discuss with your physician regarding any changes in your diet.

Do targeted chemotherapy medicines require safety precautions for handling?

Because chemotherapy drugs work by doing damage to cells, some precautions need to be taken to help keep others from coming in contact with your medicine. Precautions may include:

  • Staying away from direct contact with the medicines as much as possible.
  • Wearing gloves while handling these medicines.
  • Staying away from contact with your body fluids, such as urine, stool (feces), and blood. The medicine can be present in your body fluids while you are taking it.
  • Mandatory hand wash with soap and warm water after any contact with the medicine or with your body fluids.
  • Wearing gloves while cleaning the bathroom or other places where body fluids may be present.

It is especially important for pregnant women to stay away from direct contact with the medicines. Do not let pregnant women clean up body fluids.

Get help right away if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have problems breathing.
  • You develop a severe skin reaction, such as blisters or skin peeling.


  • Targeted chemotherapy attacks only the cancer cells.
  • Targeted chemotherapy is different from traditional chemotherapy, which can kill any cells that grow and divide quickly, including normal and healthy cells.
  • Please seek the help of you physician to understand the side effects to expect and ways to manage them.
  • Use safety precautions for handling chemotherapy medicines to help keep others from coming in contact with them.


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