Other medications may be used when:

  • Lung cancer is advanced, poorly responsive to other treatments, or recurrent
  • A mutation is found before treatment or during treatment that may respond to gene-specific therapy

They may used with or instead of chemotherapy. Types of medications include targeted therapy and biologic therapy.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses medications to attack specific factors that help cancer grow. They are designed to target certain molecules in the cancer cells. By interfering with these molecules, the ability of the cancer to grow and spread is blocked. They may work when standard chemotherapy drugs have not worked or enhance the effect of chemotherapy.

Current targeted therapy options for lung cancer include the angiogenesis inhibitors. They block new blood vessel growth, which is needed for tumor growth. Angiogenesis inhibitors may be used to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer including:

  • Bevacizumab
  • Ramucirumab

Epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) play a role in the development of cells, including cancer cells. Some people who have lung cancer also have a mutation that affects EGFR. Because of this, medications have been created to target the action of this receptor. A tissue or blood test can be done to find out if this mutation exists. If the result is positive, then treatment with this type of targeted therapy may help the prolong survival time. EGFR inhibitors include:

  • Erlotinib
  • Afatinib
  • Sunitinib
  • Vandetanib
  • Gefitinib

Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene mutations are linked to a type of lung cancer that affects both smokers and non-smokers. ALK inhibitors may be useful in shrinking tumors in people with this type of mutation. These drugs include:

  • Crizotinib
  • Alectinib

The most common side effects include high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. These medications can also be associated with more serious side effects like lung inflammation, low white blood cell counts, and liver and heart problems.

Biologic Therapy

Biologic therapy attempts to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system so that it can identify and fight cancer cells more effectively. It may be used alone or in combination with other treatments. Medications include:

  • Nivolumab
  • Pembrolizumab

The most common side effects include joint pain, fatigue, diarrhea, rash, itch, poor wound healing, and loss of appetite. The most serious side effects occur when the body's immune system starts attacking its own healthy cells and organs. This can happen anywhere in the body.


Immunotherapy. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/patients/treatment/types-of-treatment/immunotherapy.html. Updated June 1, 2017. Accessed July 28, 2016.

Immunotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-small-cell-lung-cancer/treating/immunotherapy.html. Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.

Management of unresectable nonmetastatic non-small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906058. Updated June 30, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.

Non-small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated April 13, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.

Targeted therapies. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/diagnosing-and-treating/targeted-therapies.html. Accessed August 30, 2017.

Targeted therapy drugs for non-small cell lung cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-small-cell-lung-cancer/treating/targeted-therapies.html. Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.

Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 8/30/2017