How targeted therapies work – Macmillan Cancer Support

How targeted therapies work – Macmillan Cancer Support


If you have cancer, your doctor may talk to
you about a treatment called targeted therapy, which affects how cancer cells grow and divide.
Cancer starts in our cells; cells are tiny building blocks that make up the organs and
tissues of our body. Each cell has a control centre called a nucleus. The nucleus receives
signals from the body to say when the cells should divide and grow and when they should
stop. These molecules can work inside the cells or on their surface. The nucleus then
tells the cell what to do. Usually cells divide in a controlled way to make new cells. When
a cell is no longer needed or can’t be repaired, it gets a signal to stop working and die.
Sometimes the signals go wrong and the cells become abnormal, the cells keep dividing,
making more and more abnormal cells. These cells form a lump called a tumour. As a tumour
gets bigger it develops its own blood supply. Your doctor may suggest a targeted therapy
treatment. These drugs target certain features of the cancer cell but have little effect
on most other cells. Targeted therapies are either small molecule drugs that work inside
the cancer cell, or they are drugs that attach to the outside of the cancer cell. Targeted
therapies can work in one of four ways. They can block the growth of new blood vessels
in new cancer cells. This starves the cancer of nutrients and oxygen and it shrinks and
gradually dies. Targeted therapies can block signals either inside or outside the cancer
cell, this stops the nucleus telling the cancer cell to divide and make new cells. Some targeted
therapies deliver toxic substances that can kill or damage the cells. Others can stimulate
the immune system, the body’s defence system, to destroy the cancer cells. Targeted therapies
can be given in different ways; you may have tablets, an injection under your skin, or
a drug given into a vein either by an injection or a drip. Your doctor and nurse will talk
to you about the best treatment for you, they will tell you about side effects and what
can be done to manage them. For further information or advice
call us free on 0808 808 00 00 or visit macmillan.org.uk

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