Targeted Cancer Therapy

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Questions you may have about targeted cancer therapy

Can I drink alcohol while getting targeted therapy?

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

Should I take vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements while getting targeted therapy?

There’s no single answer to this question. Some herbal supplements can interact with some targeted drugs, which might make the drugs less effective or increase their side effects. Some other supplements are probably safe to take, but there hasn’t been a lot of research to prove this. It’s not clear if any type of supplement can actually be helpful if taken along with a targeted drug. Again, this is an area that hasn’t been well studied.

It’s important not to take any supplement 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 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 drug should avoid exposing their loved ones to the drug unnecessarily. This doesn’t 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.

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. For more information on this, see our document A Guide to Chemotherapy.

Will targeted therapy affect my memory and thinking?

Research has shown that cancer and some of its treatments, such as chemotherapy and brain radiation, can sometimes affect thinking, memory, or concentration (known as cognitive functioning), even many years after treatment. Although this is commonly called chemo brain or chemo fog, it can occur even in people who do not get drug treatment for their cancer. But it isn’t clear if targeted drugs by themselves can cause chemo brain.

If problems with thinking are interfering with your daily life, there are memory retraining exercises and programs, as well as other treatments. These measures may help you retain or improve your memory and problem-solving abilities. You can also learn ways to 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 Chemo Brain.

What about my sex life?

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

Some of the possible ways targeted drugs might affect your desire for sex or make it harder to enjoy include:

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

If you and your partner 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 sex may become less important.

Even if you aren’t in a relationship, cancer and its treatment can still affect your sex life.

Whether you’re single or in a relationship, see our booklets Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer and Sexuality for the Man With Cancer for more information.

What about pregnancy and targeted therapy?

It might be possible to get pregnant during treatment, but doctors often recommend that it be avoided because some targeted therapy drugs could cause birth defects. Doctors typically advise women of childbearing age – from the teens through the end of menopause – to use birth control throughout treatment and often for some time afterward.

Ask your doctor what forms of birth control are safe to use. Many targeted drugs can interact with other drugs, so birth control pills may not always be the best choice. Men may also need to use condoms because some targeted drugs might affect a man’s sperm.

If a woman is pregnant when her cancer is first found, it might 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. Sometimes, termination of the pregnancy might be considered.

Most targeted therapies aren’t known to have long-term effects on a woman’s ability to become pregnant after treatment, but this issue hasn’t been well studied. Talk to your doctor if you are considering pregnancy after completing treatment.

How do I pay for my treatment?

    Insurance plans often cover very expensive targeted drugs that are taken by mouth under their prescription drug benefit, so you end up paying more than you would for IV drugs given by the doctor.

The cost of targeted therapy varies with the drug used, how it’s given, how long and how often it’s given, and whether you get treatment at home, in a clinic, office, or hospital.

Many targeted drugs are very expensive and can cost thousands of dollars per month. Drugs that are given into a vein (IV) are typically covered differently by insurance plans than are drugs taken by mouth, which can affect how much you have to pay. Drugs that are taken by mouth may be covered under your prescription drug benefit rather than your cancer chemo benefit, so that you may end up paying more out of pocket. And because these drugs are often expensive, having a set copayment amount can often be many times cheaper than if you are responsible for paying a percentage of the drug’s cost.

Most health insurance policies, including Medicare (Part B and D), cover at least part of the cost of most kinds of targeted therapy and chemo drugs. But to reduce their costs, companies often don’t pay for every drug. Before you start treatment, find out whether your health insurance will pay for your medicines, and how much they will pay for any targeted drug you take. If it’s too costly for you, ask your doctor about getting help from the drug company. To learn more about getting this kind of help, see our document Prescription Drug Assistance Programs.

You can learn more about health insurance and financial matters in the Insurance and Money Matters documents listed in the next section.


Last Medical Review: 12/08/2014
Last Revised: 12/11/2014