Molecularly targeted drugs for the treatment of cancer: oral complications and pathophysiology

Hippokratia 2012; 16(3):196-199

EM. Dietrich, K. Antoniades


Background: Targeted cancer therapy is a new approach for the treatment of cancer. It involves a specific molecular target, mainly a receptor that serves as a target for monoclonal antibodies or tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Side-effects of these new regimens are described to be mild, compared to those of classical chemotherapy. There is a lack in the documentation and understanding of oral complications related to molecularly targeted drugs.
Methods: In this review, we tried to make a systematic review of the databases Pubmed and Scopus, using “targeted cancer therapy” and “oral”, or “mucositis”, or “stomatitis”, or “bleeding”, or “hemorrhage” as search terms. Specific drug name searches were not conducted. The search yielded 97 results. Only articles related to EGFR and VEGFR inhibition were selected. Finally 13 articles met the criteria. Results are discussed and possible pathogenetic mechanisms for the complications of targeted cancer therapy regimens are presented.
Results: It appears that the most serious side-effect is mucositis/stomatitis that may affect the whole gastrointestinal tract. It rarely results in treatment discontinuation. Reduced saliva secretion, xerostomia and dysphagia can be severe with some regimens and interfere with food uptake. Osteonecrosis, wound healing impairment, spontaneous gingival bleeding and dysgeusia were also reported.
Conclusions: Considering these data it is obvious that symptoms related to cancer treatment should be considered in the context of the holistic management of patients. Oral complications should not be ignored but recorded during physical examination, because they may significantly impair daily activities and patients’ quality of life.