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One treatment for esophageal cancer that is being studied is targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses drugs developed to target the specific molecules that cause cells to become cancerous, grow, and spread (metastasize). These drugs might be helpful in some cases when other treatments (such as chemotherapy) are not working. And because of their focus on the specific part of the cancer cell that is causing the problem, they may cause less harm to normal cells than other kinds of treatment. That may mean they don’t cause as many side effects. Treatment for cancer with fewer side effects can lead to an improved quality of life.
For esophageal cancer, some of the drugs used for targeted therapy aim for the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). These are small proteins that are found on the surface of all cells. Small proteins called growth factors found in the blood bind to these receptors. In a normal cell, this process promotes growth. However, in many cancer cells, there are either too many EGFRs or the EGFR processes that normally stimulate cell growth are constantly active. This leads to the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.
New drugs called EGFR inhibitors block the EGFR pathway. They stop excessive cell growth and are a promising new treatment for esophageal and other types of cancer.
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