Targeted Therapy

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What is targeted therapy?
Targeted therapy is cancer treatment that uses drugs to attack unique aspects of cancer cells, therefore causing little harm to healthy cells. For example, targeted therapies can work by blocking cellular receptors or pathways believed to play a role in the development of cancer, thereby stopping the growth of a tumor.

What targeted therapies are available for pancreatic cancer?
In November 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the targeted therapy drug erlotinib (Tarceva®), in combination with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine (Gemzar®), for use in advanced pancreatic cancer that cannot be removed by surgery. Erlotinib is currently the only FDA approved targeted therapy drug for pancreatic adenocarcinoma, the most common type of pancreatic cancer.

In May 2011, the FDA approved two targeted therapy drugs, sunitinib (Sutent®) and everolimus
(Afinitor®), for the treatment of advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs). Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors account for about 6% of all pancreatic tumors.

Other targeted therapies for pancreatic cancer are still under investigation in the laboratory or in clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments in order to find better ways to treat pancreatic cancer. They provide patients the opportunity to receive a promising drug or treatment and are the only way to make progress in treating the disease.

Is targeted therapy given with other treatments?
Erlotinib (Tarceva®) is FDA approved to treat advanced pancreatic cancer in combination with gemcitabine (Gemzar®).

Targeted therapy drugs being studied in pancreatic cancer clinical trials are generally tested in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery.

Why are targeted therapies being investigated?
Targeted therapies may someday provide doctors with a way to tailor cancer treatment to the unique tumor properties in each individual patient.

Additionally, because targeted therapies attack specific receptors on cancer cells, they generally do not harm healthy cells. Therefore, they usually cause fewer side effects than other available treatments.

Where can I find information about targeted therapy trials for pancreatic cancer?
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network recommends that all patients consider clinical trials when exploring treatment options. We maintain a comprehensive database of all pancreatic cancer clinical trials taking place in the United States. Our Patient Central Associates can perform personalized database searches to determine potential eligibility and then provide you with information to discuss with your doctor. To start a personalized clinical trials search, contact a Patient Central Associate. Associates are available Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time.


Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s staff during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and education efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so. For more information on how we may use your information, you can find our privacy policy on our website at

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