Targeted Therapy

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Other questions you may have about targeted therapy

Can I drink alcohol?

Small amounts of alcohol can help you relax and increase your appetite. But alcohol may interact with some drugs so that they don’t work as well, or it may make the side effects worse. Be sure to ask your doctor if you can drink beer, wine, or any other alcoholic beverages.

Should I take vitamin or mineral supplements?

There’s no single answer to this question, but one thing is clear: No diet or nutritional plan can “cure” cancer. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements or any other complementary or alternative medicine should never take the place of medical care. You should not take any supplements without talking to your doctor first.

For more information, please call us or visit our website to get our document Complementary and Alternative Methods and Cancer.

Do I need to protect my loved ones from exposure to my targeted therapy drug?

Although there are guidelines for protecting those close to you while on standard chemo, little has been written about what’s needed while on targeted therapy. Even though these drugs tend to have less severe side effects, anyone taking a targeted therapy drug should avoid exposing their loved ones to the drug unnecessarily. This does not mean that you need to avoid close contact with loved ones while you are on treatment. It means that you should be careful about exposure to the drug itself or any body fluids that could contain the drug. For more information on this, see our document A Guide to Chemotherapy. If you are taking the drug at home, you should keep your pills away from children and pets. Ask your health care team about precautions you and your family should take.

Will targeted therapy affect my memory and thinking?

Research has shown that cancer treatment can impact the thinking functions of the brain (known as cognitive functioning) for up to 10 years after treatment. Although this is commonly called chemo brain or chemo fog, it can even occur in people who do not receive drug treatment for their cancer. It isn’t clear if targeted therapy drugs given without chemo or radiation can cause chemo brain.

Some of the brain’s activities that can be affected by cancer treatment are concentration, memory, comprehension (understanding), and reasoning. The changes that are found in patients are often very subtle, but the people who have these problems are very aware of the changes in their ability to think.

If problems with thinking are interfering with your daily life, there are memory retraining exercises and programs, as well as other treatments that may help you retain or improve your memory and problem-solving abilities. You can also learn strategies that may help you cope with the loss of cognitive function. Ask your doctor if he or she can recommend a health professional who can help. You can learn more in our document called Chemo Brain.

What about my sex life?

Some notice little or no change in their sexual desire and energy level. Others find that their sexual interest declines because of the physical and emotional stresses of having cancer and getting treatment.

Cancer and its treatment can affect your desire for sex and may make it harder to enjoy sex. These include emotional changes (see section “Emotions and targeted therapy treatment”) as well as changes that have a more direct effect on your sex life:

  • Unrelieved pain
  • Worries about changes in how you look (skin rashes, weight changes, hair changes)
  • Side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, or sensitive skin
  • Surgical changes

A partner’s concerns or fears also can affect the sexual relationship. Some may worry that physical intimacy will harm the person who has cancer. Others may be afraid they might “catch” the cancer or be affected by the drugs.

You and your partner can clear up many of these misunderstandings by talking about sexual concerns with your doctor, nurse, or a counselor. Though you may find it hard to do, talk to a health professional who can give you the information and help you need.

Couples who share their feelings with one another are usually better able to adapt to the realities of cancer. If it’s hard for you to talk to each other about sex or cancer, or both, you may want to talk to a counselor who can help you communicate more openly.

If you were comfortable with and enjoyed sex before starting treatment, chances are you will still find pleasure in physical intimacy during treatment. But you may find that intimacy takes on new meaning. Hugging, touching, holding, and cuddling may become more important, while sexual intercourse may become less important.

If you aren’t in a relationship, or are in a less traditional one, cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life even more. The challenges can involve difficult decisions and be tough to manage.

Whether you’re single or part of a couple, please see our booklets Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer and Sexuality for the Man With Cancer for more information.

Pregnancy and targeted therapy

It may be possible to get pregnant during treatment, but it should be avoided because targeted therapy drugs may cause birth defects. Doctors advise women of childbearing age – from the teens through the end of menopause – to use birth control throughout treatment. Ask your doctor about what forms of birth control are safe to use - many targeted drugs interact with other drugs so birth control pills may not always be the best choice. Men may also need to use condoms to avoid exposing their partner to the drug or to avoid being exposed by a partner taking targeted therapy.

If a woman is pregnant when her cancer is discovered, it may be possible to delay treatment until after the baby is born. For a woman who needs treatment sooner, the doctor may suggest starting treatment after the 12th week of pregnancy, when the fetus is beyond the stage of greatest risk. In some cases, termination of the pregnancy may be considered.

Talk to your doctor if you and your partner are considering pregnancy after completing treatment.

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