Cancer cells often have differences in their genes (DNA) that make them unlike normal healthy cells. These differences may cause the cell to stop working the way that it should and/or cause the cell to grow very quickly. There are many different types of cancer cells and many differences (targets) being discovered.
For some types of cancer, medications have been discovered to target the differences in that cancer cell so the patient can be treated with that drug. However, most of the time, the cancer cells will need to be tested to see if it contains targets for which there are drug therapies.
To have cancer cells (tumor) tested for targets, there may need to be a biopsy, which is a procedure where the doctor removes a piece of the tumor for testing. There are always risks with any medical procedure, and depending on the type of tumor, a biopsy will carry different risks. These risks can be discussed with a doctor before the procedure.
Most targeted therapies treat cancer in several different ways. They can work on a target that:
- Helps the immune system destroy cancer cells
- Stops cancer cells from growing
- Stops signals that help form blood vessels
- Delivers cell-killing substances to cancer cells
- Causes cancer cell death
- Starves cancer of the hormones it needs to grow