Targeted Therapy

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Getting targeted therapy treatment

How are targeted therapy drugs given?

The most common way to give these drugs is as a pill (by mouth) or into a vein (intravenous or IV). IV drugs are given in these ways:

  • The drug can be given quickly through the catheter right from a syringe over a few minutes. This is called an IV push.
  • An IV infusion can last 30 minutes to a few hours. A mixed drug solution flows from a plastic bag through tubing that is attached to the catheter. The flow is often controlled by a machine called an IV pump.
  • Continuous infusions are sometimes needed and can last from 1 to 7 days. These are always controlled by electronic IV pumps.

When the drug is given by mouth you are given pills to take at home. If you take a targeted therapy drug by mouth, it’s very important to take the exact dose, at the right time, for as long as it has been prescribed. For certain conditions, targeted therapy drugs are taken by mouth for many years.

For more information about any particular targeted drug, you can call us with the drug name or read about in online in our Guide to Cancer Drugs. For more general information on medicines that are taken by mouth to treat cancer, please see our document called Oral Chemotherapy: What You Need to Know.

Where will I get treated?

The place you get your treatment depends on which drugs you are getting, how the drugs are given, the drug doses, your hospital’s policies, your insurance coverage, what you prefer, and what your doctor recommends. Based on these factors, targeted therapy may be given:

  • At home
  • In your doctor’s office
  • In a clinic
  • In a hospital’s outpatient department
  • In a hospital

Some of these settings may have private treatment rooms, while others treat many patients together in one large room. It’s important to be in a setting that is comfortable for you. Talk to your doctor or nurse ahead of time so that you know what to expect your first day.

How often will I need to get treatment and how long will it last?

How often you get the targeted therapy drug and how long your treatment lasts depend on the kind of cancer you have, the goals of the treatment, the drugs being used, and how your body responds to them. You may get treatments daily, weekly, or monthly. Some drugs are given in on-and-off cycles. The breaks allow your body to build healthy new cells and regain its strength. Other drugs are OK to take every day for many months or even years.

Does targeted therapy hurt?

Getting a targeted therapy drug should not hurt beyond the discomfort of the needle stick needed to put in the catheter for medicines given IV (into a vein). If you feel pain, burning, coolness, or anything unusual while you are getting the medicine, tell your doctor or nurse right away.

What are clinical trials and how do I find them?

Clinical trials are carefully designed research studies that test promising new cancer treatments in human volunteers. Many targeted therapies are being studied in clinical trials, and you may want to talk to your doctor about whether this is an option for you. Patients who take part in research studies are the first to benefit from these treatments. These patients can make an important contribution to medical care because the study results will also help other patients.

In a clinical trial, you get either standard treatment or a new treatment that’s thought to be as good as – or maybe better than – the standard treatment. Studies are never done to see if you would recover from cancer without treatment at all. As with any other medical treatment, you decide whether you want to be in the study, and you are free to withdraw from a clinical trial at any time and seek other treatment options.

To learn more about clinical trials:

  • Ask for our document on clinical trials called Clinical Trials: What You Need to Know, or read it on our website.
  • The American Cancer Society also offers a Clinical Trials Matching Service to help you find clinical trials that might be right for you. The service is available by telephone from 7:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. CT Monday through Friday at 1-800-303-5691, or you can fill out a screening questionnaire anytime.
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI) can give you a list of clinical trials that may be right for you based on the type and stage of your cancer. Call 1-800-422-6237, or visit the NCI’s website at www.cancer.gov.

Can I take other medicines while I am getting targeted therapy?

Some medicines may interfere with your treatment. To be sure that your treatment works as well as it can, tell your doctor or nurse about any and all prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements you are taking.

  • Make a list of the name of each drug, the dose, how often you take it, the reason you take it, and who prescribed it (if applicable).
  • Be sure to include the things you may not think of as medicines, even those you take every now and then. This includes aspirin, herbal and dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and all over-the-counter medicines. Don’t forget those you take for fever or aches and pains, drugs for heartburn and other stomach problems, cold and flu remedies, sleeping medicines, allergy symptoms, and other “as needed” drugs.

Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of these medicines before you start treatment. After treatment starts, check with your doctor before taking any new medicines or supplements and before stopping the ones you already take.

How will I know if the drug is working?

Your cancer care team will measure how well your treatments are working with certain tests. These may include physical exams, blood tests, bone marrow biopsies, and imaging tests such as scans and x-rays. Ask your doctor about the test results and what they show about your progress. You may have side effects from treatment, but that doesn’t always mean that the treatment is working.

How do I give my permission for this treatment?

As with standard chemotherapy, you will be asked to give your written permission to be treated with a targeted therapy drug. This should be based on your understanding of the drug your doctor is recommending. Know the answers to all of these questions before you sign the consent form.

  • Which targeted therapy drug will I be given?
  • How will the drug be given to me?
  • How often will I need to take this drug?
  • How long will my treatments last?
  • What is the purpose of this treatment (is it meant to cure, slow cancer growth, help my symptoms)?
  • How likely is this treatment to be successful?
  • What side effects could I have from these drugs?
  • Which side effects should I report to you right away, and which ones can wait a few days?

The specifics of the consent form may vary, but the form usually states that your doctor has explained your condition to you, how the treatment is expected to help you, the risks, and the other options available to you. Your signature on the form means that you have gotten this information, have had the chance to ask questions, and are willing to be treated with this drug. This process is called informed consent.


Last Medical Review: 07/12/2013
Last Revised: 07/12/2013