Are Targeted Therapy Side Effect Profiles in Lung Cancer Improving?

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Topics include: Treatments and Understanding

Targeted therapies differ from standard chemotherapy drugs in many ways, but can they improve quality of life for lung cancer patients? What kind of side effects are associated with targeted therapies? Watch now to find out from lung cancer expert Dr. Christine Lovly from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. 

The Living Well with Lung Cancer series was a Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power. We thank Celgene, Helsinn, Novartis and Genentech for their support.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Andrew Schorr:

My question to you, Christine, is we've been hearing about new lung cancer treatments and more targeted treatments, and we've mentioned some along the way and others in development and trials.  Are these necessarily kinder—kinder and gentler, right, than the chemo that people traditionally have gotten?  

Dr. Lovly:

Yeah. So we're talking really right now about precision medicine or finding mutations within the lung cancer itself which can be targeted typically with pill therapies, not always, but typically pill therapies.  So there are a lot of different factors that go into this. 

First, taking a pill and being able to just take your cancer medicine at home versus having to go into an infusion room and sit there for four to eight hours, that's a huge quality-of-life issue right there, is just being able to take your pill at home versus having to spend a whole day sitting in an infusion room.  So I think we cannot underscore the importance of that too.  Time is our most precious resource, and not having to be in the infusion room means a lot of people really benefit from that.  

Targeted therapies that are again typically pills are not without side effects, and so even though they are pills they come with side effects.  Those side effects are very specific to what the target of the pill is.  So EGFR inhibitors are going to have in general different side effects than ALK inhibitors, and ALK inhibitors are going to have in general different side effects from BRAF inhibitors.  And so the side effect depends on the particular drug and the particular target. 

All these targeted therapies have some side effects.  Their side effects are typically different than chemotherapies.  Chemotherapies we think a lot about decreasing your white cell count, putting patients at risk for infection, decreasing the red blood cell count, causing anemia and essentially low energy from that perspective.  Typically those targeted therapies don't cause those problems with your blood counts, but they can cause other symptoms. 

For example, EGFR drugs, anti-EGFR drugs can cause a rash and can cause diarrhea, and that's because of the way normal EGFR works in our body. 

So I think my take-home message is yes, in general, targeted therapies are easier to take because they're pills.  They have less side effects but they do absolutely come with some side effects that your doctor should discuss with you based on the particular drug that you're taking. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on January 26, 2018