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Drugs that block cancer blood vessel growth (anti angiogenics)

Anti angiogenics are drugs that try to stop cancers from growing blood vessels. This might slow the growth of a cancer or sometimes shrink it.

What anti angiogenesis treatment is

A cancer needs a good blood supply to provide itself with food and oxygen and to remove waste products. When it has reached 1 to 2mm across, a tumour needs to grow its own blood vessels in order to continue to get bigger.

Some cancer cells make a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The VEGF protein attaches to receptors on cells that line the walls of blood vessels within the tumour. The cells are called endothelial cells. This triggers the blood vessels to grow so the cancer can then grow.

Angiogenesis means the growth of new blood vessels. Anti angiogenic drugs are treatments that stop tumours from growing their own blood vessels. If the drug is able to stop a cancer from growing blood vessels, it might slow the growth of the cancer or sometimes shrink it.

Types of anti angiogenesis treatment

There are different types of drugs that block blood vessel growth:

Drugs that block blood vessel growth factor

Some drugs block vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) from attaching to the receptors on the cells that line the blood vessels. This stops the blood vessels from growing.

An example of a drug that blocks VEGF is bevacizumab (Avastin). Bevacizumab is also a monoclonal antibody. It is a treatment for several different types of cancer. It's also in trials for ovarian cancer and a rare type of cancer of the nerve cells called neuroblastoma.

Drugs that block signalling within the cell

Some drugs stop the VEGF receptors from sending growth signals into the blood vessel cells. These treatments are also called cancer growth blockers or tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).

Sunitinib (Sutent) is a type of TKI that blocks the growth signals inside blood vessel cells. It is used to treat some people with:

  • kidney cancer
  • a rare type of stomach cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST)
  • a neuroendocrine tumour of the pancreas

Drugs that affect signals between cells

Some drugs act on the chemicals that cells use to signal to each other to grow. This can block the formation of blood vessels.

Drugs that works in this way include thalidomide and lenalidomide (Revlimid). They are used to treat some people with multiple myeloma.

Side effects of anti angiogenesis treatment

Each drug has different side effects.

Last reviewed: 
17 Jul 2017
  • Antiangiogenic therapy in oncology: current status and future directions
    GC Jayson and others
    Lancet, 2016. Volume 388, Number  10043, 518-29

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Controlling escape from angiogenesis inhibitors
    B Sennino and DM McDonald
    Nature Reviews Cancer, 2012. volume 12, Issue 10, 699-709

  • Anti-angiogenic tyrosine kinase inhibitors: what is their mechanism of action?
    KJ Gotink and M Henk W.Verheul
    Angiogenesis, 2010. Volume 13, Issue 1: 1–14

  • The Role of Angiogenesis in Cancer Treatment
    M. Rajabi and SA. Mousa
    Biomedicines, 2017. Volume 5, Issue 2 

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

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