Targeted therapies

Recent research has discovered that the growth of some lung cancers depends on the presence of damaged genes (mutations) in the cancer cells. These mutations are not inherited or passed on to your children. The causes of these mutations are unknown.

Some drugs "switch off" mutations and stop cancer cells from growing and "communicating" with each other.

These are called "targeted" or biological therapies because these drugs target specific mutations or specific proteins (cell growth receptors that talk with other cancer cells) within the cancer cell. These therapies target cancer cells, but some normal healthy cells can also be affected.

Targeted therapies are available for EGFR and ALK mutations. If your doctor suspects that your cancer may be due to a mutation, the doctor will ask the laboratory to analyse the cancer tissue to see if you have a mutated gene. Finding a mutated gene will guide your doctor's choice of targeted therapy. This is often referred to as "personalised medicine".

Examples of targeted therapies are drugs that attack the cancer's blood supply (anti-angiogenesis drugs), and drugs that block the signals that make the cancer grow. Talk to your doctor about whether targeted therapies are suitable for you.

Side effects of targeted therapies

The most common side effects include:

  • loss of appetite (not wanting to eat)
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue/extreme tiredness
  • skin rash (acne, irritable skin)
  • nail changes
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea
  • mouth ulcers.