Targeted cancer therapies are treatments that target specific characteristics of cancer cells, such as a protein that allows the cancer cells to grow in a rapid or abnormal way. Targeted therapies are generally less likely than chemotherapy to harm normal, healthy cells. Some targeted therapies are antibodies that work like the antibodies made naturally by our immune systems. These types of targeted therapies are sometimes called immune targeted therapies.
Pregnant women should not get targeted therapies. The little research that has been done suggests that targeted therapies are not safe during pregnancy. Visit the Treatment for Breast Cancer During Pregnancy page for more information.
There are currently six targeted therapies doctors use to treat breast cancer:
- Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab) works against HER2-positive breast cancers by blocking the ability of the cancer cells to receive chemical signals that tell the cells to grow.
- Tykerb (chemical name: lapatinib) works against HER2-positive breast cancers by blocking certain proteins that can cause uncontrolled cell growth.
- Avastin (chemical name: bevacizumab) works by blocking the growth of new blood vessels that cancer cells depend on to grow and function. On Nov. 18, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it had removed the breast cancer indication from Avastin because the drug has not been shown to be safe and effective for that use. The medicine itself is not being removed from the market and doctors can choose to use Avastin to treat metastatic breast cancer whether or not that particular use is officially approved by the FDA.
- Like Herceptin, Perjeta (chemical name: pertuzumab) works against HER2-positive breast cancers by blocking the cancer cells’ ability to receive growth signals.
- Afinitor (chemical name: everolimus) is an mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) inhibitor. Afinitor works against hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers that have stopped responding to Arimidex or Femara by stopping the cancer cells from getting the energy they need.
- Kadcyla (chemical name: T-DM1) is a combination of Herceptin and the chemotherapy medicine emtansine. Kadcyla was designed to deliver emtansine to cancer cells in a targeted way by attaching emtansine to Herceptin. Herceptin then carries emtansine to the HER2-positive cancer cells.