Targeted (biological) therapies for primary liver cancer

Targeted therapy drugs target the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. These treatments are also sometimes called biological therapies.

The most commonly used targeted therapy drug for primary liver cancer (HCC) is a tablet called sorafenib (Nexavar®). It 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 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. For most people, the side effects are mild or moderate and get better 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

Possible side effects of sorafenib 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 is important to drink plenty of fluids if you have diarrhoea.

Sore palms and feet

The skin on 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, or notice that your skin is red, dry or itchy. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens. They can advise you about creams or lotions to use.

Feeling sick

Any sickness (nausea) 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 is important to get the right balance between 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.

Availability

Sorafenib is licensed and doctors in the UK can prescribe it. Sorafenib may only be available in some situations. Your cancer doctor can tell you if it’s appropriate for you.

If a drug is not available on the NHS, there may be different ways you are still able to have it. Your cancer doctor can give you advice.

We have more information on what to do if a treatment is not available.

The main side effect I’ve had from sorafenib is a skin rash. The rash was at its worst in the first 2 to 3 weeks, but has now improved.

Karen, Online Community member

Back to Treating

Making treatment decisions

Your doctors may tell you there are different options for your treatment. Having the right information will help you make the right decision for you.

Surgery

Surgery involves removing all or part of the cancer with an operation. It is an important treatment for many cancers.

Tumour ablation

Tumour ablation is when the tumour is destroyed by applying heat or alcohol directly to it.

Embolisation treatments

Embolisation is when substances are injected into blood vessels to block the blood flow to the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat many different types of cancer. It is most commonly given as an injection into a vein or as tablets or capsules.

Clinical trials

Many people are offered a trial as part of treatment. Find out more to help you decide if a trial is right for you.

Life after cancer treatment

You might be thinking about how to get back to normal following treatment. Find advice, information and support about coping with and after cancer.