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Laryngeal Cancer: Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses medicines that target specific proteins or cell functions that help cancer grow. Like chemotherapy, these medicines work throughout the body. But they are targeted to kill cancer cells, and sometimes work when chemotherapy does not. They can also have less severe side effects. There is currently 1 targeted therapy medicine used to treat laryngeal cancer: cetuximab.

Immunotherapy is sometimes used to make the body's own immune system fight cancer.


This medicine is a type of targeted therapy called a monoclonal antibody. It’s a lab-made version of an immune system protein. Antibodies can be made to affect very specific targets. This medicine targets a protein called EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor). High levels of EGFR are found on the surface of some laryngeal cancer cells. This helps them grow and divide. Blocking EGFR helps slow or even stop cancer cell growth.

Sometimes cetuximab is given along with radiation therapy as a first line treatment for early stage laryngeal cancers. These are cancers that are small and have not spread. In other cases, this medicine may be tried for advanced or recurrent laryngeal cancers when other treatments have not worked. In this case, it might be used by itself or along with chemotherapy. This medicine is given by infusion into a vein.

Common side effects can include:

  • Acne-like rash on the face and chest

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Feeling tired

  • Diarrhea

Less often, more serious side effects can occur. These include:

  • Allergic reactions while getting the medicine

  • Increased risk of serious heart problems

You may be given medicine before treatment to help prevent more serious side effects. Your blood pressure will be checked often during treatment to watch for signs of problems.

Working with your healthcare provider

If you receive targeted therapy, talk with your healthcare team about what signs to look for and when to call them. Make sure you know what number to call with questions. Is there a different number for evenings and weekends?

It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down physical, thinking, and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects.

More targeted medicines being tested

If you have laryngeal cancer, discuss cetuximab with your healthcare provider. Other types of targeted therapy are also being studied for laryngeal cancer. These new medicines are being tested in clinical trials. Talk with your provider if you’re thinking about being part of a clinical trial. Your provider can help you find out if a clinical trial would be right for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2018
© 2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.