Targeted therapies for stomach cancer
Chemotherapy (chemo) drugs target cells that divide quickly, which is why they often work against cancer cells. But there are other aspects of cancer cells that make them different from normal cells. In recent years, researchers have developed new drugs to try to target these differences. These drugs tend to have different side effects than standard chemo drugs.
A drug called trastuzumab (Herceptin®) can help some patients with stomach cancer. Trastuzumab targets a certain protein called HER2. If the stomach cancer cells have too much HER2 protein, giving this drug with chemo can help some patients with advanced stomach cancer live longer than giving chemo alone. Not all stomach cancers have too much HER2 protein, so your cancer has to be tested to see if this drug can help.
Trastuzumab is put into a vein (injected). For stomach cancer it is given once every 2 or 3 weeks along with chemo. The best length of time to give it is not yet known.
The side effects of trastuzumab tend to be fairly mild. They can include fever and chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, cough, diarrhea, and headache. These side effects happen less often after the first dose. Rarely, this drug can lead to heart damage.
Ramucirumab (Cyramza™) is a targeted therapy drug that works by helping to stop new blood vessels from being formed. This can help prevent the growth and spread of cancers like stomach cancer.
This drug is used only for advanced stomach cancer. It is given into a vein, every 2 weeks.
Common side effects tend to be mild and include high blood pressure, diarrhea, and headache. This drug can have more serious side effects, too, like bleeding and blood clots.
Other targeted therapy drugs are being tested against stomach cancer. Some of these are discussed in more detail in the section “What’s new in stomach cancer research?” And you can read more about targeted therapy in our document Targeted Therapy.
Last Medical Review: 05/27/2014
Last Revised: 01/09/2015