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. Targeted drugs may work in some cases when standard chemo drugs don’t. They also tend to have fewer severe 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.
Trastuzumab is put into a vein (an injection). 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. This drug is only helpful for some stomach cancers — the ones that contain too much of the HER2 protein.
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 new targeted therapy drug for advanced stomach cancer. It works to help stop new blood vessels from being formed, which can help prevent the growth and spread of cancers like stomach cancer.
This drug 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: 03/18/2013
Last Revised: 04/22/2014