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Biological therapy

What is a biological therapy

Biological therapies are drugs that change the way cells work and help the body control the growth of cancer.

Some seek out and destroy cancer cells. Others help the body's immune system to attack the cancer.

Types of biological therapy

There are different types of biological therapy. Doctors sometimes use a drug called cetuximab to treat mouth cancer. This is a type of biological therapy known as a monoclonal antibody.  

Monoclonal antibodies work by attaching to proteins on or in cancer cells.

Diagram showing a monoclonal antibody attached to a cancer cell

Why you have it

You might have cetuximab with radiotherapy if you have squamous cell mouth cancer which is locally advanced. You can have it if chemotherapy (such as cisplatin or carboplatin) is not working, or you cannot have chemotherapy.

Squamous cell cancer is the most common type of mouth cancer. Locally advanced means the cancer has spread into areas close to the mouth or oropharynx, but not to other areas of the body or distant lymph nodes.

If your squamous cell mouth cancer has come back or spread, you might have cetuximab with chemotherapy, But this treatment is not widely available in the UK. 

Other biological therapies

Doctors are looking at newer biological therapies for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer in clinical trials. 

Side effects of biological therapy

Side effects can include:

  • tiredness and weakness
  • diarrhoea
  • skin rashes 
  • sore mouth 
  • loss of appetite
  • increased risk of getting an infection
  • breathlessness and looking pale 
  • swelling (due to fluid build up) 

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.