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What Is Targeted Chemotherapy?

By A. Reed
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chemotherapy is a treatment used to kill cancerous cells in humans, which encompasses the administration of chemotherapeutic drugs, agents capable of destroying neoplasmic cells. In targeted chemotherapy, the drug is injected directly into cancerous tumors as opposed to being put into systemic circulation. Also referred to as regional chemotherapy, targeted chemotherapy can only be used to treat certain types of cancer as sometimes the treatment is more effective if it is administered systemically. Leukemia is an example of a cancer which is best treated with systemic chemotherapy agents.

With standard chemotherapy, patients undergo treatment by taking oral tablets or receiving intravenous infusions which are successful in destroying the cancer; however, healthy normal cells are also killed in the process. Side effects are often experienced, namely nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Other conditions such as anemia may manifest due to bone marrow cell destruction. Even though more potent drugs are used, patients receiving targeted chemotherapy tend to experience fewer side effects.

Allowing for isolated treatment, targeted chemotherapy benefits patients needing a highly toxic form of medicine to reach the required level of effectiveness, but is too toxic for the entire body to tolerate. Referred to as closed circuit infusion, this kind of cancer treatment can now be used in the limbs as well as the liver and pancreas. An example of a cytotoxic drug of this nature would be the tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which requires that another drug be used in combination with it to achieve necessary effectiveness.

As a relatively new therapy, targeted chemotherapeutic agents work in a variety of ways. The action of some drugs prohibit the ability of neoplastic cells to make their own blood vessels, while others are able to stop cancer cell division. Doctors also deliver heated drugs to cancer that has spread into the abdominal cavity while still under general anesthesia, after surgery has been performed. The heat itself destroys the cancer and permits delivery of increased concentration. Minimal side effects are experienced.

In the early 21st century, cancer treatment can be customized and designed according to how a particular patient's cancer cells respond to certain cytotoxic agents. Cells are obtained when tissue is biopsied or during tumor removal. Depending upon how the cells react to the different drugs to which it is exposed, doctors can determine the most effective treatment combination for that individual, thereby increasing the likelihood of remission or cure. Custom chemotherapy can be used to target several types of malignancies, including breast, uterine, and lung cancer. Lymphoma and leukemia are the exceptions.

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