Things to Know Before Getting Targeted Cancer Therapy

Here are some questions you might want answered before you start your treatment. For treatment-related questions, see the targeted therapy page under a specific cancer type

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’re getting targeted therapy.

Can 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. This is an area that hasn’t been well studied.

It’s important not to take any supplement without talking to your doctor first.

Do I need to protect others 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 others while you’re getting treatment. It means that you should be careful about exposure to the drug itself or any body fluids that could contain the drug (such as urine or vomit).

If you’re taking the drug at home, you should keep your pills away from children and pets. Ask your cancer care team about precautions you and your family should take.

Will targeted therapy affect my memory and thinking?

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

Will targeted therapy affect 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.

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

Learn more in Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer and Sexuality for the Man With Cancer.

Is it safe to get pregnant during targeted therapy treatment?

It might be possible to get pregnant during treatment, but doctors 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.

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, terminating 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. Before you start treatment, talk to your doctor if you are considering pregnancy in the future.

Little is known about male fertility and whether it’s safe to father a child while you are getting targeted therapy. Again, talk to your doctor if this is a concern.

How do I pay for targeted therapy treatment?

The cost of targeted therapy depends on 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.

    Insurance plans often cover very expensive targeted drugs that are taken by mouth under their prescription drug benefit, so you end up paying more out of pocket than you would for IV drugs given in a clinic, hospital, or office.

Targeted drugs tend to be very expensive and can cost thousands of dollars per month. Drugs that are given into a vein (IV) are 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, this means you may end up paying more out of pocket. Because these drugs are expensive, having a set prescription co-pay can often be much cheaper than if you have to pay a percentage of the prescription 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 Prescription Drug Assistance Programs.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

National Cancer Institute. Targeted Cancer Therapies. 2014. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/targeted on May 4, 2016.

Ocvirk J, Heeger S, McCloud P, Hofheinz RD. A review of the treatment options for skin rash induced by EGFR-targeted therapies: Evidence from randomized clinical trials and a meta-analysis. Radiol Oncol. 2013;47:166-175.

Last Medical Review: May 4, 2016 Last Revised: June 6, 2016

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.