Targeted Therapy for Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinus Cancers

As researchers have learned more about the changes in cells that cause cancer, they've been able to develop newer drugs that specifically target these changes. Targeted drugs work differently from standard chemo drugs. They often have different (and less severe) side effects. So they may be useful in treating people who cannot tolerate chemo side effects. Targeted therapy is used to treat many kinds of cancer, but this type of drug has not been well studied for treating most kinds of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. (Some are used to treat melanomas in these areas.)

Cetuximab (Erbitux) is a monoclonal antibody, which is a man-made version of an immune system protein. It targets epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein on the surface of certain cells that helps them grow and divide. Nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancer cells often have more than normal amounts of EGFR. By blocking EGFR, cetuximab can slow or stop cancer cell growth.

Cetuximab may be used to treat more advanced cancers, such as those that have spread or come back after treatment. It may be combined with radiation and/or chemo drugs, such as cisplatin and docetaxel, or it may be used by itself.

Cetuximab is given by infusion into a vein (IV), usually once a week. A rare but serious side effect of cetuximab is an allergic reaction during the first infusion, which could cause problems with breathing and low blood pressure. You'll be given medicine before treatment to help prevent this.

Many people develop skin problems such as an acne-like rash on the face and chest during treatment, which in some cases can lead to infections. Other side effects might include headache, tiredness, fever, nausea, and diarrhea.

Talk to your doctor about the side effects you should watch for and what can be done to help prevent or treat them.

Other targeted therapy drugs to treat nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers are being studied now.

More information about targeted therapy

To learn more about how targeted drugs are used to treat cancer, see Targeted Cancer Therapy.

To learn about some of the side effects listed here and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

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 journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Kashat L, Le CH, Chiu AG. The Role of Targeted Therapy in the Management of Sinonasal Malignancies. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2017;50(2):443-455.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. Head and Neck Cancers. Version 2.2017 -- May 8, 2017.

Last Revised: December 1, 2017

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