Head and neck cancer that is recurrent (has returned after treatment) or has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) may be treated with a targeted therapy called cetuximab (brand name Erbitux®). It may be given alone or with chemotherapy (carboplatin or cisplatin with 5FU or paclitaxel).
The “mab” in “cetuximab” means it is a type of targeted therapy called a monoclonal antibody. Targeted therapies are drugs that find and attack cancer cells by targeting a specific, unique feature of the cancer cell, such as an abnormal mutation or protein that isn’t found in normal, healthy cells.
Cetuximab attaches itself to a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) — which is present on tumor cells and helps them grow faster — and interferes with its functioning. Cetixumab also “marks” the cancer cells so your immune system can find and destroy them.
Potential side effects of cetuximab include rash and diarrhea, which can be managed with medications.