How does targeted therapy treat cancer?

Each cancer patient is unique. And when developing a cancer treatment plan, our doctors consider all of the things that make patients unique, including diagnosis, medical history and treatment preferences. Targeted therapy enables us to personalize cancer treatment even further by tailoring drugs to the genetic characteristics of a patient’s specific tumor. “Targeted therapy attacks the genetic change within the cancer cell regardless of the tumor type, so we don’t worry if it’s breast cancer, lung cancer or prostate cancer,” says Vivek Subbiah, M.D., clinical medical director of MD Anderson’s Clinical Center for Targeted Therapy. “We focus on the DNA of the cancer cells.” Sometimes referred to as precision medicine or as personalized medicine, targeted therapy aims to stop or slow the growth of cancer. Targeted therapy drugs are given either as a pill or through an IV. How targeted therapy personalizes cancer treatment Cancer develops when a normal cell’s genes change, causing the cell to quickly divide and multiply out of control. The change in the cell’s genes is called a mutation. About 5-10% of cancers are caused by genetic mutations passed from parent to child (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2), but many are caused by factors such as age, sun damage or tobacco use. No matter how the mutation forms, targeted therapy works the same. Targeted therapy is different than traditional chemotherapy. While chemotherapy kills all cells that multiply quickly regardless of whether they’re cancerous, targeted therapies are designed to find and slow the growth of the cells that have a particular mutation. The mutation is identified in a process called next-generation sequencing. During this process, a...