Nasopharyngeal Cancer

+ -Text Size

Treating Nasopharyngeal Cancer TOPICS

Targeted therapy for nasopharyngeal cancer

As researchers have learned more about the changes in cells that cause cancer, they have been able develop newer drugs that specifically target these changes. These targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy (chemo) drugs. They may work in some instances when chemo drugs do not, or they may sometimes help chemo drugs work better. Targeted drugs also often have different (and less severe) side effects.

Cetuximab (Erbitux®)

Cetuximab is a monoclonal antibody (a man-made version of an immune system protein) that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). EGFR is a protein found on the surface of cells. It normally receives signals telling the cells to grow and divide. Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) cells sometimes have more than normal amounts of EGFR, which can help them grow faster. By blocking EGFR, cetuximab may slow or stop this growth.

The exact role of cetuximab in treating NPC is still being studied. It is most often used along with chemo and/or radiation in cases where the cancer has come back or continues to grow after initial chemo.

Cetuximab is given by IV infusion, usually once a week. A rare but serious side effect of cetuximab is an allergic reaction during the first infusion, which could cause breathing problems and low blood pressure. You may 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 may include headache, tiredness, fever, and diarrhea.

More information about monoclonal antibodies can be found in our document Immunotherapy. For general information about targeted therapy, see our document Targeted Therapy.

You can also call us to learn more about individual drugs, or see our online Guide to Cancer Drugs.


Last Medical Review: 09/23/2013
Last Revised: 09/23/2013