Targeted therapy for oropharyngeal cancer
Targeted therapy is sometimes used to treat oropharyngeal cancer. It uses drugs to target specific molecules (such as proteins) on cancer cells or inside them. These molecules help send signals that tell cells to grow or divide. By targeting these molecules, the drugs stop the growth and spread of cancer cells and limit harm to normal cells. Targeted therapy may also be called molecular targeted therapy.
You may have targeted therapy to treat advanced or recurrent oropharyngeal cancer. It may be given alone or with radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
The most common targeted therapy drug used to treat oropharyngeal cancer is cetuximab (Erbitux). It is usually given into a vein (intravenously) in the arm once a week.
Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of targeted therapy. You may also receive other treatments.
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Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for oropharyngeal cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.
Targeted therapy attacks cancer cells but doesn’t usually damage healthy cells, so there are usually fewer and less severe side effects than with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can damage healthy cells along with cancer cells.
If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after targeted therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after targeted therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of targeted therapy will depend mainly on the type of drug or combination of drugs, the dose, how it’s given and your overall health. Cetuximab may cause these side effects:
- skin problems, including rash, dryness and itching
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from targeted therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
American Cancer Society. Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer. 2014: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/oral-cavity-and-oropharyngeal-cancer.html.
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Oral and Oropharyngeal cancer. 2016: http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/oral-and-oropharyngeal-cancer/view-all.
Beadle BM, Rosenthal DI . Multidisciplinary management of oropharynx carcinomas. Bernier J (ed.). Head and Neck Cancer: Multimodality Management. Springer; 2016: 27: 475 - 510.
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