Immunotherapy & Targeted Therapies for Colorectal Cancer

Doctors at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center may use immunotherapy or targeted therapies to treat people with colorectal cancer. Immunotherapy harnesses the immune system to fight cancer cells, and targeted drugs block substances that promote tumor growth. Sometimes, these therapies are prescribed in combination with chemotherapy.


Doctors may prescribe immunotherapy for microsatellite unstable colorectal tumors, which have a defect in the ability to repair DNA. Pembrolizumab is a PD-1 blocker that may be prescribed to treat people with colorectal cancer that has spread and tumors that have not responded to other treatments, such as surgery.

Targeted Drugs

Targeted drugs help destroy cancer cells while sparing much of the body’s healthy tissue. These medications may lead to fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

At Perlmutter Cancer Center, targeted drugs are prescribed to treat people with more advanced colorectal cancers and may be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy drugs. Our researchers were involved in early studies of these medications.

Our researchers helped study targeted medications for treating people with more advanced colorectal cancer.

Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Inhibitors

Vascular endothelial growth factors are proteins in the body that promote the formation of new blood vessels. These new blood vessels provide tumors with nutrients, helping them grow. Our doctors may prescribe vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors—drugs that help disrupt this process.

For example, bevacizumab inhibits the function of vascular endothelial growth factor proteins. This IV medication consists of antibodies, or immune system proteins, that attach to vascular endothelial growth factor proteins, interfering with the signaling process that supports the growth of cancer cells.

Perlmutter Cancer Center researchers participated in the first national trials of bevacizumab in combination with chemotherapy for advanced colorectal cancer.

Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Inhibitors

Epidermal growth factor receptor is a protein that appears on the surface of cancer cells and signals them to grow. Cetuximab and panitumumab are medications that block these proteins. Cetuximab and panitumumab are given with chemotherapy or individually in people with cancer that has spread beyond the colon and rectum.

Perlmutter Cancer Center researchers participated in some of the first clinical trials on the use of cetuximab in combination with chemotherapy.

Multikinase Inhibitors

The medication regorafenib is used to treat people with colorectal cancer that does not respond to other medicines. It blocks multiple kinases, proteins on the surface of cancer cells that promote tumor growth.

Our researchers were involved in the first national clinical trials for advanced medications that treat colorectal cancer.

Clinical Trials

Perlmutter Cancer Center doctors offer colorectal cancer clinical trials to test the effectiveness of new therapies for colorectal cancers. These studies can help determine who may benefit most from chemotherapy and which combinations of treatment work best. Our doctors are also investigating new combinations of targeted medications with and without chemotherapy, and other strategies for treating people with colon and rectal cancers.

Our clinical trials are open to people with early and more advanced colorectal cancer. You and your doctor can discuss whether you might benefit from a clinical trial.

Managing Side Effects

Our doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and other specialists can help you minimize and manage common side effects of chemotherapy and targeted therapies, which may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes, and mouth sores.

Steps may be taken before or during treatment to help reduce or lessen side effects. For example, our specialists can provide lotions, mouthwashes, and other aids to help manage skin rashes and mouth sores.

Our doctors can also adjust the dose of your medication, substitute others, prescribe antinausea and pain medications, and recommend one of many supportive services, which include assistance from nutritionists or from NYU Langone’s palliative care team. Palliative care specialists focus on managing symptoms and side effects during and after treatment.

Supportive Care

Our team provides services to improve your quality of life during colorectal cancer treatment.

Learn More

It is important to tell your healthcare team members about any pain or side effects you may be experiencing as early as possible, so they can promptly offer recommendations.