Systemic Therapy

What Is Systemic Therapy?

Research continues to find new treatments for cancer. In fact, systemic therapy is now the primary treatment of choice for select cancers. It is used in combination with other therapies such as radiation therapy and surgery for many cancers.

How Is Chemotherapy Used?

Chemotherapy drugs are used frequently in combinations which include two, three, or more different drugs. However, they can be used alone. Your physician selects your chemotherapy based upon the most recent research about treatments for your particular cancer. This information is determined through a painstaking and thorough process using clinical trials. One interesting fact is that it takes about 12 years and as much as $70 million dollars for a newly "discovered" cancer drug to progress from initial investigation to commercial availability.

Chemotherapy interferes or disrupts cancer cells while they are in the process of dividing into new cells. There are different categories of chemotherapy drugs based upon where this disruption occurs in the cancer cell's life cycle. This is one reason that doctors use different drugs in combinations. Disrupting a cell in more than one part of the division cycle may provide better "cell kill". Another reason that drugs are used together is that they may enhance each other's strength more than if used alone.

Why Are There Side Effects From Chemotherapy?

Researchers have not yet perfected a way to isolate the action of these chemotherapy drugs to working only on cancer cells. This is why there are side effects. The body's cells and tissues that normally divide rapidly are affected the most. These cells include hair, the lining of the mouth, esophagus and intestines and bone marrow. Side effects will vary from one drug to another. Not all people experience the exact same side effects or experience side effects to the same degree. Your doctors and nurses will teach you about what kinds of side effects your drugs may cause. You will learn ways to watch for them and reduce other possible problems. You will have a one on one appointment to discuss side effects, what to expect, how to treat, and when to notify your provider.

What is Targeted Therapy?

According to the National Cancer Institute, Targeted Therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells with less harm to normal cells. Some targeted therapies block the action of certain enzymes, proteins, or other molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Other types of targeted therapies help the immune system kill cancer cells or deliver toxic substances directly to cancer cells and kill them. Targeted therapy may have fewer side effects than other types of cancer treatment. Most targeted therapies are either small molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies. Targeted therapy is an active area of research and new targeted therapies are in development.

What is Biological Therapy? 

Biological Therapy is a treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune (defense) system to fight infection and disease. Biological therapy is thus any form of treatment that uses the body's natural abilities that constitute the immune system to fight infection and disease or to protect the body from some of the side effects of treatment.

Examples of Biological Therapy are:

  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors (Pembrolizumab, Nivolumab)
  • Immune Cell Therapy (CAR T-cell therapy)
  • Therapeutic Antibodies (Trastuzumab, Rituximab)
  • Antibody-Drug Conjugates (Ado-Trastuzumab Emtansine, Brentuximab Vedotin)
  • Other Immune System Molecules (Blinatumomab, Denileukin Diftitox)
  • Therapeutic Vaccines (Sipuleucel-T)
  • Immune System Modulators (Cytokines, BCG, Thalidomide, Lenalidomide, Pomalidomide)

What Cancer Treatment Drugs are used today?

For information about cancer treatment drugs, click on for a complete listing of drugs and side effect management. MEDLINEplus is another good source where you can either search for the drug alphabetically or by name.


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