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Targeted or biological therapies| are treatments that work by targeting specific proteins that are found either on the surface of cells or within the cell itself. They include cancer growth inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies.
Targeted therapies are often given as part of cancer research trials| and are sometimes used to treat soft tissue sarcomas.
Imatinib| is a type of treatment called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor| (TKI). It may be used to treat GISTs|, as the effects of the drug are very specific to this type of sarcoma. Imatinib works by blocking (inhibiting) signals within cancer cells. Blocking the signals prevents a series of chemical reactions that make the cells grow and divide. The chemical it blocks is called tyrosine kinase.
Imatinib is taken once a day as tablets. It can cause side effects including feeling sick (nausea) or vomiting|, diarrhoea|, a skin rash and puffiness, especially around the eyes. Some of the side effects can be reduced with other medicines. Imatinib can sometimes control GISTs for several years.
Sunitinib| is another TKI. It may be used to treat GISTs that don’t respond to imatinib, or if the side effects of imatinib are too troublesome.
As well as blocking signals within the cancer cells and preventing a series of chemical reactions that make the cell grow and divide, it helps to prevent the tumour developing new blood vessels. Without blood vessels, the tumour can’t get the nutrients it needs to survive.
Possible side effects of sunitinib include tiredness|, diarrhoea, sore hands and feet, a sore mouth|, taste changes| and a loss of appetite|.
This is a newer TKI that is used to treat some types of advanced soft tissue sarcoma. It is taken once a day as tablets.
Pazopanib| has not been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) or the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) for use in the NHS. As a result, it may not be widely available. We have more information on what you can do if a treatment isn’t available|.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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