You might have targeted or immunotherapy drugs as part of your treatment for laryngeal cancer.
What are targeted and immunotherapy drugs for laryngeal cancer?
Targeted cancer drugs work by targeting the differences in cancer cells that help them to grow and survive. Other drugs help the immune system attack cancer. They are called immunotherapies.
Some drugs work in more than one way. So they are targeted as well as working with the immune system.
When do you have targeted and immunotherapy drugs for laryngeal cancer?
Whether you have targeted therapy or immunotherapy depends on:
- the type of cancer you have
- how far the cancer has grown (the stage)
- what other treatments you can have
Targeted drugs for laryngeal cancer
Cetuximab (or Erbitux) is a type of targeted cancer drug called a monoclonal antibody. You might have cetuximab together with radiotherapy for laryngeal 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
- blocking the proteins from triggering the cancer cells to divide and grow
Cetuximab (Erbitux) works by blocking proteins on cancer cells. These proteins are called epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR).
Immunotherapy for laryngeal cancer
Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo)
Pembrolizumab and nivolumab are a type of immunotherapy. They stimulate the body's immune system to fight cancer cells.
Pembrolizumab and nivolumab target and block a protein called PD-1 on the surface of certain immune cells. These immune cells are called T-cells. Blocking PD-1 triggers the T-cells to find and kill cancer cells.
Are these drugs available in the UK?
New cancer drugs are licensed for use in a particular way. For example, a drug might have a license to treat a particular stage or type of cancer.
Once a drug has a license, several independent organisations approve the new cancer drugs. Only then can doctors prescribe them on the NHS.
Cetuximab is available on the NHS in England and Wales. You can have cetuximab with radiotherapy if all of the following apply. You:
- have locally advanced squamous cell laryngeal cancer
- can't have platinum based chemotherapy (such as cisplatin or carboplatin)
- are fit enough
Locally advanced cancer means cancer that has spread into the areas close to the voice box, but not to other areas of the body such as the bone or distant lymph nodes.
Pembrolizumab is available on the NHS in the UK. You can have pembrolizumab on its own (monotherapy) if all of the following apply. You:
- have squamous cell laryngeal cancer
- have a cancer that has spread (metastatic) and has not been treated or it has come back (recurrent) and you can’t have surgery
- have a protein called PD-1 on your cancer cells
You can have pembrolizumab for up to two years, but it might be stopped earlier if your cancer progresses.
Nivolumab is available on the NHS in the UK. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can have nivolumab if you have:
- squamous cell laryngeal cancer that has come back or spread to other parts of the body
- had platinum based chemotherapy (such as cisplatin or carboplatin) and your cancer has started to grow within 6 months of having chemotherapy
In Scotland, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) says that you can have nivolumab if your cancer continues to grow while on or after having platinum based chemotherapy. You can have it for up to 2 years.
Having targeted and immunotherapy drugs for laryngeal cancer
You have your treatment through a tube into your bloodstream.
Into the bloodstream
You have some of these drugs through a tube into your bloodstream. A nurse puts a small tube into a vein in your hand or arm and connects the drip to it.
Or you might have a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drug into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment.
Targeted therapy drugs and immunotherapy drugs can cause different side effects. Some of these can be serious.
Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this. Always tell them about any side effects you have and follow the advice they give you.
Choose a drug on our A to Z list to read about side effects and find out more about the drug.
Research into laryngeal cancer
Researchers are looking at:
- new targeted and immunotherapy drugs
- different combinations of these drugs with other treatments