What are targeted (biological) therapies?

Targeted therapy drugs, sometimes called biological therapies, target the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. A targeted therapy drug called sorafenib (Nexavar®) may be used to treat primary liver cancer that is advanced or has spread to other parts of the body.

Sorafenib blocks signals within the cancer cells that make them grow. It may help slow down the growth of a tumour and relieve symptoms. You take it as a tablet, twice a day.

Sorafenib may cause some of the following side effects; diarrhoea, sore palms and feet, skin changes, feeling sick, tiredness, hair thinning and raised blood pressure. Tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects you have. They can prescribe drugs to control certain side effects and talk to you about how to manage side effects.

Sorafenib may not be widely available on the NHS. Your doctor can give you advice about this.

Targeted therapy drugs

Targeted therapy drugs, sometimes called biological therapies, target the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. A targeted therapy drug called sorafenib (Nexavar®) can be used to treat HCC that is advanced or has spread to other parts of the body. Other targeted therapy drugs may be used in clinical trials.

Sorafenib interferes with the signals that tell cancer cells to grow and stops the cancer from making new blood vessels. It may help to slow the tumour from growing and relieve symptoms. Doctors usually prescribe it for as long as it works well for you.

You take sorafenib as a tablet, twice a day at the same time. For most people, the side effects are usually mild and may lessen after a few weeks. Always tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects you have. They can prescribe drugs to help control them and give you advice about managing them.


Side effects

Side effects of sorafenib can include:

Diarrhoea

This is usually mild but let your doctor or nurse know. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to control it if doesn’t improve. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids if you have diarrhoea.

Sore palms and feet (hand/foot skin reaction)

The palms of your hands and soles of your feet may get sore and red. Tell your cancer doctor or nurse and always let them know if it gets worse.

Skin changes

You may get a rash, redness, dryness or itching. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. They can advise you about creams or lotions to use.

Feeling sick

Any sickness is usually mild, but let your doctor know if this happens. They can prescribe drugs to control this. Try to eat lots of small meals or snacks regularly if you don’t have much appetite.

Tiredness and lack of energy

It’s important to get the right balance of having enough rest and being physically active. Going for regular short walks will help you to feel less tired.

Hair thinning

Some people notice that their hair becomes thinner while taking sorafenib but it is usually mild.

Raised blood pressure

Sorafenib may cause this. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have ever had any problems with your blood pressure. Your nurse can check it regularly during your treatment.

Sorafenib is licensed and doctors in the UK can prescribe it. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises the NHS on which cancer drugs and treatments to use. It has not recommended sorafenib as a treatment for people with HCC. Neither has the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), which is a similar organisation to NICE. In England, sorafenib is usually available to people with HCC through the Cancer Drugs Fund. In the rest of the UK, your cancer doctor may apply for it as an individual funding request on your behalf. We have more information about what you can do if a treatment isn't available where you live.


Back to Targeted (biological) therapies explained

Angiogenesis inhibitors

Angiogenesis inhibitors prevent cancers from making new blood vessels. Without new blood vessels, the cancer cannot grow.

Cancer growth inhibitors

Cancer growth inhibitors block certain chemical signals within cells, which slows down or stops the growth of the cancer.