Targeted cancer drugs are treatments that change the way cells work and help the body to control the growth of cancer. They work by ‘targeting’ the differences that help a cancer cell to survive and grow.
Treatments for bowel cancer
Some types of targeted drugs are used to treat colon or rectal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic bowel cancer). They can shrink the cancer or slow its growth but they can't cure the cancer.
These types of treatment help the body to control the growth of cancer cells.
They can work by:
- stopping cancer cells from growing and dividing
- seeking out and killing cancer cells
- encouraging the immune system to kill cancer cells
- stopping the blood and nutrient supply to the cancer
Whether you have targeted therapy depends on:
- the type of cancer you have
- how far the cancer has grown (the stage)
- other treatments you've already had
Types of targeted drug treatments for bowel cancer
Monoclonal antibodies work by recognising and finding specific proteins on cancer cells. Different types of cancer have different proteins. The monoconal antibody stops particular proteins from binding to cancer cells or blocking it from triggering the cancer cells to divide and grow.
Monoclonal antibodies for bowel cancer include:
- cetuximab (Erbitux)
- panitumumab (Vectibix)
- bevacizumab (Avastin)
You might have monoclonal antibodies during or after chemotherapy.
Anti angiogenesis drugs
Angiogenesis means the growth of new blood vessels. A cancer needs a good blood supply to bring food and oxygen and remove waste products. Some cancer drugs stop the blood supply to cancer cells. These drugs are called anti angiogenics.
Aflibercept (Zaltrap) is an anti angiogenesis drug for advanced bowel cancer.
Cancer growth blockers
Regorafenib (Stivarga) is a growth blocker. It works by blocking particular proteins on cancer cells that encourage the cancer to grow. It also stops the cancer from growing blood vessels.
Are these drugs available in the UK?
Cetuximab and panitumumab
Cetuximab and panitumumab are available on the NHS for advanced bowel cancer throughout the UK.
You can have these drugs:
- if genetic tests on your cancer cells show these drugs might help you
- as the first treatment for your advanced cancer, in combination with chemotherapy
Bevacizumab and regorafenib
These drugs have been licensed to treat advanced bowel cancer. But they have not been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) or the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC). So they are not routinely available as treatments on the NHS in the UK.
Aflibercept has been licensed to treat advanced bowel cancer. But it has not been approved by NICE. So it isn’t routinely available on the NHS in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Aflibercept is available in Scotland. The SMC have recommended aflibercept for advanced bowel cancer:
- together with irinotecan and 5FU chemotherapy (FOLIFIRI)
- as your second treatment for advanced bowel cancer, if your first treatment (which included oxaliplatin chemotherapy) is no longer working
General side effects
Side effects depend on the type of drug you are having, some of the common side effects include:
- tiredness (fatigue)
- loss of appetite
- a sore mouth
- low levels of blood cells
- feeling sick
Contact your doctor or nurse if you are having any problems. They can give you advice and medication to help with some side effects.