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Skin Changes Caused By Targeted Chemotherapies

What are targeted therapies?

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© American Cancer Society 2010

Many of the newer chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer are calledtargeted therapies. These drugs act on certain parts of cancer cells to block the growth and spread of cancer. They work by affecting the processes that make normal cells become cancer cells and cause tumors to grow. The goal of targeted therapy is to destroy cancer cells while causing little or no damage to normal, healthy cells. Targeted therapies can be used to treat certain types of many different cancers, including lung, pancreatic, head and neck, liver, colorectal, breast and kidney cancers. Some examples of targeted therapy are:

  • erlotinib (Tarceva)
  • cetuximab (Erbitux)
  • panitumumab (Vectibix)
  • lapatinib (Tykerb)
  • bexarotene (Targretin)
  • sorafenib (Nexavar)
  • sunitinib (Sutent)

Targeted cancer therapies do not damage bone marrow or blood cells like most standard chemotherapy (chemo) drugs do. They can be used alone or along with other drugs. They are most often used with other cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemo. Targeted therapy is used this way to boost the effects of the main treatment.

Targeted therapy is newer than other forms of cancer treatment like surgery, radiation, or chemo. It is only within the last 10 years or so that it has proven useful as a cancer treatment. Even though these drugs mainly target the cancer cells, they are not perfect -- they can cause side effects and sometimes serious reactions.

Many of the targeted therapy drugs can cause a rash or other skin changes. These changes are side effects -- part of a normal body response to the targeted therapy drug. In this case, they are not signs of a drug allergy. The skin changes that have been linked to targeted therapy cancer treatments will be reviewed here.

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