Targeted drug therapy is the use of medicines that target or are directed at proteins on cancer cells that help them grow, spread, and live longer. Targeted drug therapy can be used to treat oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers by destroying cancer cells or slowing their growth. Their side effects are different from chemotherapy (sometimes less severe) and many are taken as a pill.
Some targeted drugs, for example, monoclonal antibodies, work in more than one way to control cancer cells and may also be considered immunotherapy because they boost the immune system.
Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a protein that helps cancer cells grow. Drugs that target EGFR can be used to treat some oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancers.
Cetuximab (Erbitux) is a monoclonal antibody, which is a man-made version of an immune system protein. It targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) protein on the surface of certain cells that helps cells grow and divide. Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer cells often have higher than normal amounts of EGFR. By blocking EGFR, cetuximab can help slow or stop cancer cell growth.
Cetuximab can be combined with radiation therapy for some earlier stage cancers. For more advanced cancers, it may be combined with standard chemo drugs such as cisplatin, or it may be used by itself.
Cetuximab is given by infusion into a vein (IV), either once a week or every other week.
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. Cetuximab can make your skin very sensitive to the sun, so you'll need to protect your skin while getting treatment and for at least months after treatment. Other side effects may include headache, tiredness, fever, and diarrhea.
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 may be given medicine before treatment to help prevent this.
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Last Revised: March 23, 2021