Lung Cancer (non-small cell) Overview

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Treating Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell TOPICS

Targeted drugs for non-small cell lung cancer

As researchers have learned more about the changes in lung cancer cells that help them grow, they have developed newer drugs that target these changes. These targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy (chemo) drugs. They sometimes work when other cancer drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects. At this time, they are most often used for advanced lung cancers, either along with chemo or by themselves. Three major types of targeted drugs are used to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC):

  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: These drugs target tumor blood vessel growth. They include bevacizumab (Avastin®) and ramucirumab (Cyramza®). These drugs can cause serious bleeding, so they can’t be used in patients who are coughing up blood or are taking certain medicines.
  • EGFR inhibitors: These drugs target a protein that some NSCLC cells have too much of called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). The drugs erlotinib (Tarceva®), gefitinib (Iressa®) and afatinib (Gilotrif®) block EGFR from telling the cell to grow. The most bothersome side effect for many people from these drugs is an acne-like rash on the face and chest, which in some cases can lead to skin infections.
  • ALK inhibitors: Drugs such as crizotinib (Xalkori®) and ceritinib (Zykadia) target the protein made by an abnormal ALK gene. These drugs can only help the 5% of NSCLC patients whose cancers have an abnormal ALK gene.

For more information on the targeted drugs used to treat NSCLC, see “Targeted therapies for non-small cell lung cancer” in our detailed guide, Lung Cancer (Non-small Cell).

For more details about the skin problems that can result from anti-EGFR drugs, see our document Targeted Therapy.


Last Medical Review: 08/18/2014
Last Revised: 07/13/2015