Some newer drugs have the ability to specifically attack cancer cells according to their unique aspects. These drugs, termed targeted therapies, are designed to treat only the cancer cells and minimize damage to normal healthy cells. Cancer treatments that “target” cancer cells often have fewer side effects and are more focused than traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Targeted therapies are currently being studied for treatment of pancreatic cancer, but none have been approved for use as first-line therapy.
The only currently approved targeted therapy is erlotinib (Tarceva®) in combination with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, for use in advanced pancreatic cancer that cannot be removed surgically. However, this treatment is uncommon as there are many adverse side effects that diminish the potential benefits of this drug.
Targeted cancer therapies for pancreatic cancer are still under investigation in the laboratory or in clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that are performed to investigate new treatments through the observation of patients. Since all cancers are different, a drug that is already approved for the treatment of one type of cancer may not necessarily be approved to treat pancreatic cancer unless it proves effective through the clinical trials process.