Targeted therapies for soft tissue sarcomas

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 (Glivec®)

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:

Some of the side effects can be reduced with other medicines. Imatinib can sometimes control GISTs for several years.

Sunitinib (Sutent®)

Sunitinib is another TKI. It may be used to treat GISTs that do not respond to imatinib, or if the side effects of imatinib are too troublesome.

Sunitinib blocks signals in the cancer cells and prevents a series of chemical reactions that make the cell grow and divide. It also 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:

Pazopanib (Votrient®)

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 Care Excellence (NICE) or the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) for use in the NHS. As a result, it may not be widely available.

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Cancer growth inhibitors

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

Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies can attach themselves to cancer cells to prevent them from growing.