As researchers have learned more about the changes in cells that cause cancer, they have been able to develop newer drugs that specifically target these changes. Targeted drugs work differently from standard chemo drugs. They may work in some cases when chemotherapy doesn’t. They also tend to have different (and less severe) side effects.
Cetuximab (Erbitux®) is a monoclonal antibody (a man-made version of an immune system protein) that targets epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein on the surface of certain cells that helps them grow and divide. Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer cells often have more than normal amounts of EGFR. By blocking EGFR, cetuximab can slow or stop cell growth.
Cetuximab may be combined with radiation therapy for some earlier stage cancers. For more advanced cancers, it may be combined with standard chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin, or it may be used by itself.
Cetuximab is given by infusion into a vein (IV), usually once a week. A rare but serious side effect of cetuximab is an allergic reaction during the first infusion, which could cause problems with breathing and low blood pressure. You will be given medicine before treatment to help prevent this.
Many people develop skin problems such as an acne-like rash on the face and chest during treatment, which in some cases can lead to infections. Other side effects might include headache, tiredness, fever, nausea, and diarrhea.
Studies of other targeted therapy drugs to treat laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers are going on now.
For more information about targeted therapy see Targeted Therapy.
Last Revised: 02/17/2016