Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States along
with heart disease. The hallmark of cancer treatment has been conventional
chemotherapy. Chemotherapeutic drugs are designed to target not only rapidly
dividing cells, such as cancer cells, but also certain normal cells, such as intestinal
epithelium. Over the past several years, a new generation of cancer treatment has come to the
forefront, i.e, targeted cancer therapies. Like conventional chemotherapy, targeted cancer therapies
use pharmacological agents that inhibit growth, increase cell death and restrict the spread of cancer.
As the name suggests, targeted therapies interfere with specific proteins involved in tumorigenesis.
Rather than using broad base cancer treatments, focusing on specific molecular changes which are
unique to a particular cancer, targeted cancer therapies may be more therapeutically beneficial for
many cancer types, including lung, colorectal, breast, lymphoma and leukemia. Moreover, recent
advances have made it possible to analyze and tailor treatments to an individual patient’s tumor.
There are three main types of targeted cancer therapies; 1) monoclonal antibodies, 2) small
molecule inhibitors and 3) immunotoxins. This review will discuss these three classes of targeted
therapies in detail, as well as the biology behind targeted cancer therapies.