Risk Management & Treatment

Targeted therapy

Tageted therapies are designed to attack or kill cancer cells, while sparing normal cells as much as possible. These therapies are often designed to target abnormal proteins, receptors or genes that are found in high quantities in cancer cells or the surrounding tissue.  

A targeted therapy may be combined with other types of treatments, including another targeted therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, immunotherapy or given alone. Targeted therapy selection may depend on the following:

  • Cancer type: Various targeted therapies are approved for use in different types of cancer. You can learn more about targeted therapy by cancer type in our Cancer Treatment by Cancer Type section. 
  • Cancer stage, subtype and grade: Some targeted therapies are approved only for use in certain stages of cancer, grades or types of cancer.  
  • Location or site of cancer that has spread: Certain targeted therapies may work better in different organs. For example, the blood-brain barrier protects your brain by filtering out drugs. If cancer has spread to your brain, your oncologist may treat you with a therapy that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier.  
  • Number of prior treatments and response: Some targeted therapies are used to treat progression or recurrence after a specified number or type of prior treatments have already been used. 
  • Results of tumor biomarker testing: Some targeted therapies work best on cancers that express certain biomarkers. Biomarkers can be proteins, genes changes, and other cell products. You can learn more about biomarker testing for selecting targeted therapies in our Common Biomarkers sections.
  • Results of genetic testing for an inherited mutation: Some targeted therapies work best on cancers in people with certain inherited mutations. One example is PARP inhibitors, which were originally developed to treat cancers in people with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. 

Each targeted therapy drug has different indications. You can read more in our section on Indications. Like all cancer treatments, targeted therapies can have side effects. Visit our section on Side Effects for more information.

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                class='glossary-tip tt-targeted-therapy'
                title='<p>Targeted therapy refers to medications that stop&nbsp;the growth of cancer&nbsp;by blocking certain pathways that tumors need to grow.&nbsp;Targeted therapies are designed to cause&nbsp;fewer side effects than chemotherapy because they&nbsp;only affect&nbsp;cancer cells. Chemotherapy&nbsp;attacks&nbsp;all rapidly dividing cells—including normal cells&nbsp;and cancer cells—leading&nbsp;to additional&nbsp;side effects.&nbsp;</p>
            >targeted therapy</abbr> works


The majority of public and private health insurance plans are required to cover cancer diagnosis and treatment; copays, coinsurance and deductibles often apply. Patient costs and coverage for specific doctors, facilities or treatments may vary based on your health plan. Visit our section on Insurance and Paying for Care: Treatment  for more information, links to sample appeal letters and other resources. 

Some pharmaceutical companies and laboratories have assistance programs that help cover the cost for biomarker tests and targeted therapies: 

Organizations that offer co-pay assistance:

Other resources:

  • The American Cancer Society provides information and resources on covering the cost of cancer care. Public assistance, such as Medicaid may be available if you are ineligible for other programs. 
  • Needy Meds: Assistance programs to help patients with cost of medications and other healthcare.
  • Triage Cancer offers tools and resources to help individuals cope with the financial aspects of a cancer diagnosis.
Last updated August 06, 2020