Laryngeal cancer is a difficult cancer to treat. In fact, the standard treatment of radiation and chemotherapy, or CRT, for the early stages of this cancer of the voicebox is highly toxic to other cells in the body and can lead to a number of side effects.
That's one reason many researchers hope that targeted therapy may offer an alternative. This type of therapy uses drugs that target specific proteins or cell functions that help cancer grow. Like chemotherapy, these medicines work throughout the body. But they sometimes work when chemotherapy does not. And because they mainly target cancer cells, the side effects are often different (and less severe) than those from chemotherapy drugs.
One type of targeted therapy used to treat cancer involves proteins called monoclonal antibodies. These antibody proteins bind to a specific target, such as a protein on cancer cells, and leave most healthy tissues alone. This type of treatment is developed in a lab and injected into the patient.
One monoclonal antibody that has been specifically studied for laryngeal cancer is known as cetuximab (Erbitux), a drug given by injection. This drug targets EGFR, a protein on some cancer cells that helps them grow and divide. Laryngeal cancer cells often have higher than normal amounts of EGFR.
Sometimes, cetuximab is given along with radiation therapy as a first-line treatment for early stage laryngeal cancers. Other times, it may be tried as an option for advanced or recurrent laryngeal cancers when other cancer therapies have not been successful. In this case, it might be used by itself or along with chemotherapy.
Side effects from this medicine can include an acne-like rash, headache, fever, nausea, feeling tired, and diarrhea. Less common but more serious side effects can include allergic reactions while getting the drug and an increased risk of serious heart problems. Your doctor will want to check your blood during treatment for signs of problems.
If you have laryngeal cancer, discuss cetuximab with your doctor. You may also want to consider participating in a clinical trial of other newer types of treatment for your cancer.