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Chemotherapy and Targeted Drug Therapy for Gastric Cancer

Chemotherapy is the use of medications to destroy cancer cells. It may be recommended as part of a treatment plan for certain types of stomach cancer. Targeted drug therapy is a type of chemotherapy in which the medication works on specific proteins present in cancer cells or specific aspects of certain types of tumors.

The multidisciplinary team at the Johns Hopkins Gastric Cancer Center will determine which combination of treatments is best for each individual patient.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a rest period to allow the body time to recover. Each cycle typically lasts for a few weeks.

Types of Chemotherapy Used to Treat Gastric Cancer

Depending on the type of gastric cancer, stage and the patient’s general health and prognosis, doctors orally or intravenously administer one or a combination of chemotherapy drugs at different points during treatment.

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy before surgery): Studies have shown that patients with locally advanced gastric cancer have improved survival if chemotherapy is given prior to surgery. This treatment may also be given in conjunction with radiation therapy. Patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation together may require nutritional support due to significant weight loss and nausea inhibiting adequate nourishment.
  • Adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy after surgery): Patients diagnosed with more advanced stomach cancer are often given postsurgical chemotherapy as part of their overall treatment plan.

Targeted Drug Therapy for Treating Gastric Cancer

Targeted drugs, such as trastuzumab, exploit the unique genetic, biological and molecular structures of gastric cancer cells while proving far less taxing on the patient’s mind, body and general health. While still technically considered chemotherapy, targeted drugs may work in some cases when standard chemo drugs don’t — and with fewer unpleasant side effects like hair loss or nausea.

One of the more effective drug therapies targets a certain protein called HER2, which is found to varying degrees in stomach cancer cells. When given in conjunction with standard chemotherapy, trastuzumab can help some patients with advanced stomach cancer live longer than with chemotherapy alone.

Other types of targeted drug therapies work by preventing the cancer from forming new blood vessels. This stunts the tumor’s growth and prevents it from spreading.

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