What are targeted cancer therapies? How do they work?

Targeted therapies are a type of cancer treatment that target cancer cells, specifically. They mostly spare healthy cells. Other treatments, like chemotherapy, can damage normal cells too.

What types of targeted therapies exist for multiple myeloma?

These days, most of the drugs we use are targeted therapies. These include bortezomib, lenalidomide, carfilzomib, daratumumab, and many others.

Am I a candidate for targeted therapy for multiple myeloma?

Most people with myeloma will receive a targeted therapy. The type of targeted therapy you receive will depend on the your circumstances. For example, if you have a specific translocation, you might be eligible for a drug like venetoclax. In the future, we will also have specific drugs for KRAS mutations or other mutations of myeloma.

How long does this type of drug treatment last?

The duration of your treatment will depend on whether you’re newly diagnosed, or if you went into remission and your cancer has relapsed.

Are there side effects of targeted therapy? How are side effects treated?

Yes. Every drug has side effects. The type of side effects you experience will depend on your overall treatment plan. Side effects of targeted therapy for multiple myeloma can include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, infections, and more.

If you start experiencing side effects while on targeted therapy, talk to your doctor. They can help you with ways to manage any side effects, and let you know if there is medication to help.

What factors will my doctor consider to determine if targeted therapy is the best option for me?

To determine whether you’ll receive targeted therapy, your doctor will consider things like:

  • your age
  • your treatment history
  • the type of myeloma you have
  • your overall health
  • your preferences

Is targeted therapy used in combination with other medications or on its own? How is it given?

Targeted therapy is sometimes used in combination with other cancer treatments like chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, or radiation.

Targeted therapy may come in the form of a pill that you take orally, or as an injection.

Does targeted therapy require ongoing testing? If so, how often? How are they conducted?

You will continue to see your doctor regularly during your treatment. How often you’ll need to see your doctor depends on your specific circumstances.

At these visits, you’ll have an exam and any tests as needed. This is so your doctor can check the progress of your treatment and that it’s working.


Dr. Irene Ghobrial is a professor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, and an associate member of the Broad Institute. She is the director of the Clinical Investigator Research program at Dana-Farber, co-director of the Center for Prevention of Progression, and co-leader of the Blood Cancer Research Partnership. She is also the director of the Michele & Stephen Kirsch Laboratory. She received her medical degree from Cairo University School of Medicine in Egypt. She completed her internal medicine training at Wayne State University and her Hematology/Oncology subspecialty training at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.