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Managing Cancer Care

Getting Targeted Cancer Therapy

The information below describes what you might expect when getting targeted therapy. There are also other drugs that are used to treat cancer in different ways, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.

Getting IV Targeted Therapy

Some targeted therapies are given as an infusion. Intravenous or IV chemo is put right into your bloodstream through a tiny, soft, plastic tube called a catheter. A needle is used to put the catheter into a vein in your forearm or hand; then the needle is taken out, leaving the catheter behind. Some patients may have a central venous catheter (CVC) or port placed that allows treatment to be given through the same line each time. It stays in as long as you’re getting treatment so you won’t need to be stuck with a needle each time. Different kinds of CVCs are available.

Intravenous drugs are given in these ways:

  • IV push: the drugs can be given quickly through the catheter right from a syringe over a few minutes.
  • IV infusion: a typical infusion can last from a few minutes to a few hours. A mixed drug solution flows from a plastic bag through tubing that’s attached to the catheter. The flow is usually controlled by a machine called an IV pump.

Getting Oral Targeted Therapy

If a targeted therapy drug is taken by mouth, you swallow the pill, capsule, or liquid just like other medicines. Oral targeted therapy is usually taken at home. Because of this, it’s very important to make sure you know exactly how it should be taken. If you and your doctor have decided oral chemo is the best treatment option for you, be sure to ask questions and get instructions about:

  • How and when to take it. You should have clear instructions on how much and when to take your treatment. You need to take the exact dosage, at the exact right time, for exactly as long as you’re supposed to do so. Oral doses are set up so that the same level of drug stays in your body to target and kill the cancer cells. Not taking your treatment the right way can affect how well it works. Sometimes dose changes are needed, but don’t make any changes unless your doctor tells you to do so. If you miss a dose or are late taking one, tell your doctor or nurse about it. They need to know about this when deciding if treatment is working. It may also help the doctor decide whether to change how much of the medicine you take or when you take it.
  • Special handling. Not a lot is known about long-term effects of certain targeted therapies that might make special handling needed. But many experts recommend taking precautions just in case. To learn more, see Targeted Therapy Safety.
  • Cost. Oral anti-cancer drugs can be expensive. Make sure you ask your doctor about the cost of your treatment so you are not surprised when you get to the pharmacy or when you get your bill if the treatment is not available at pharmacies. Depending on the type of drug, some insurances don't cover the full cost, or may not cover it at all. Sometimes you can get assistance but many people have to pay more of their own money for them than what they would pay for treatment that’s given with a needle in the hospital or clinic. If you have health insurance, this might mean a higher co-pay. Make sure you know how much you’ll have to pay for each treatment. You can call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for more information about financial assistance.

Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse about any problems you have taking your oral treatment at home. For instance, if you’re throwing up or feel sick to your stomach, you might feel too sick to take your treatment. Or, you might not be able to keep your treatment pill down and could throw it up. Your doctor needs to know about any problems so they can change your treatment plan, if needed.

Do I need to protect others from exposure to my targeted drug?

Much is known about the need to protect others from exposure to traditional or standard chemotherapy because it is hazardous. However, because targeted therapy drugs are newer, there is not as much information about long-term effects of exposure. To be safe, many experts recommend treating targeted therapy drugs as hazardous and taking the same precautions. To learn more read Targeted Therapy Safety.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Understanding targeted therapy. Accessed at on December 19, 2019.

Brown VT. Targeted therapy. In Olsen MM, LeFebvre KB, Brassil KJ, eds. Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy Guidelines and Recommendations for Practice. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2019:103-139.

National Cancer Institute (NCI). Targeted cancer therapies. Accessed at on December 19, 2019.

Last Revised: December 27, 2019

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