Side Effects of Targeted Cancer Therapy Drugs

Autoimmune reactions

Certain targeted therapy drugs work by basically taking the brakes off the body’s immune system. This can lead to serious side effects if the immune system starts to attack healthy parts of the body. In some people this can cause serious reactions in the lungs, intestines, liver, skin, eyes, nerves, hormone-making glands, or other organs. This isn’t common but in some people it might be serious enough to be life threatening.


Some targeted therapies cause facial swelling, especially around the eyes. They can also cause swelling in the feet and legs, as well as the hands. This usually doesn’t need to be treated, but a diuretic (water pill) may be used in severe cases.

Other side effects

Other side effects have also been linked to treatment with some targeted therapy drugs. Many of these side effects are the same as those seen with standard chemo drugs, and include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Mouth sores
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Cough
  • Feeling tired all the time (fatigue)
  • Headache
  • Hair loss
  • Damage to organs such as the thyroid gland, liver, or kidneys
  • Allergic reactions (while getting an IV drug)
  • Increased risks of certain infections
  • Second cancers

Your cancer care team will watch you closely during treatment and will check you often. Side effects can and should be treated as early as possible. It’s important that you tell your cancer care team about any changes in how you feel or anything you notice that’s new or unusual. Tell them right away so they can treat any problems and try to keep them from getting worse.

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