Biological therapy for soft tissue sarcoma | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Biological therapy for soft tissue sarcoma

Men and woman discussing soft tissue sarcomas

This page gives information about biological therapies for soft tissue sarcoma. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Biological therapy for soft tissue sarcomas

Biological therapies are treatments that act on processes in cells and can stop cancer cells from dividing and growing. There are many different types of biological therapy.

Imatinib (Glivec)

Imatinib (Glivec) is a type of biological therapy called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. This means that it blocks a protein called tyrosine kinase that a cancer needs in order to grow. Glivec is used to treat a very particular type of soft tissue sarcoma called a gastro intestinal stromal tumour (GIST). It is a tablet. So you can have treatment at home. The most common side effects are tiredness (fatigue) and sickness. Some people also have water retention, causing swelling of the hands and feet and the area around the eyes. About half the people treated have diarrhoea. You may also have a rash or headaches.

Sunitinib (Sutent)

Sunitinib (also called Sutent) is another type of tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It is used for people with GIST that doesn't respond to imatinib or who have had bad side effects. The side effects include tiredness (fatigue), diarrhoea, skin discolouration, a sore mouth, taste changes, sore hands and feet, raised blood pressure and loss of appetite.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating soft tissue sarcoma section.

 

 

What biological therapies are

Biological therapies are treatments that use natural substances from the body, or that change the way cells signal to each other. They can stimulate the body to attack or control the growth of cancer cells. There are many different types of biological therapy and some work well for particular types of soft tissue sarcoma.

 

Imatinib (Glivec) for soft tissue sarcomas

Imatinib (Glivec) is a type of biological therapy called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It blocks a protein called tyrosine kinase that a cancer needs in order to grow. Imatinib is used to treat a very particular type of soft tissue sarcoma called a gastro intestinal stromal tumour (GIST). About 6 out of 10 cases of GIST are found in the stomach. The rest are found in other parts of the digestive system, including the small and large bowel.

Imatinib may also be given to treat a very rare, low grade type of sarcoma known as dermatofibrosarcoma protruberans (DFSP), which occurs in the skin.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends imatinib as the first choice of treatment for people with GIST that can't be completely removed with surgery or that has spread. The GIST cells need to be tested to see if they have a protein on the cell surface called CD117. Glivec works best on sarcomas that are CD117 positive. Nearly all GIST tumours are CD117 positive. Doctors also call this c-kit positive because it is a fault in the c-kit gene that causes the cells to make too much of the CD117 protein.

You usually have this test on the tumour tissue removed during surgery. Even if your GIST tests negative for CD117, your specialist may still recommend imatinib. GISTs that test negative for CD117 can still respond to this type of treatment.

In 2012, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) recommended that imatinib should be available within the NHS in Scotland as a treatment after surgery to remove CD117 positive GISTs. It is only for people who have a high risk of their tumour coming back. In 2014, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended imatinib for this use within the NHS in England and Wales.

Imatinib is a tablet. So you can have treatment at home. The most common side effects are tiredness (fatigue) and sickness. Some people also have water retention, causing swelling of the hands and feet and around the eyes. About half the people treated are sick or have diarrhoea. You may also have a rash or headaches. There is detailed information about imatinib (Glivec) in our section about cancer drugs.

 

Sunitinib (Sutent) for soft tissue sarcomas

Sunitinib (also called Sutent) is another type of tyrosine kinase inhibitor. It blocks particular chemical processes that tell the cancer cells to grow and divide. It starves the tumour of nutrients by

  • Blocking chemical processes
  • Stopping proteins (kinases) from telling the cell to grow
  • Stopping the tumour developing blood vessels

Sunitinib can treat people with GIST who have had imatinib (Glivec) treatment that has not worked or has caused bad side effects. It is approved for this use by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in England and Wales and by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) in Scotland.

Side effects reported with sunitinib include tiredness, diarrhoea, skin discolouration, a sore mouth, taste changes, sore hands and feet, raised blood pressure and loss of appetite. There is information about coping with the side effects of sunitinib in the cancer drugs section.

 

Other biological therapies

Regorafenib (Stivarga) is licensed in the UK to treat people with advanced GIST who have had treatment with imatinib (Glivec) and sunitinib that has not worked or has caused bad side effects. Advanced GIST means you cannot have surgery to remove the GIST, or it has spread.  Regorafenib has not been assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) have approved the use of regorafenib in Scotland for people with advanced GIST. The All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) have approved regorafenib to treat people with advanced GIST in Wales. 

Researchers are looking at whether other biological therapies can help people with soft tissue sarcoma. They include pazopanib (Votrient), axitinib (Inlyta), cediranib (Recentin) and deforolimus. 

You can find information about these biological therapy treatments and soft tissue sarcoma on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results. 

You can also find information on our page about research into soft tissue sarcoma.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 4 out of 5 based on 2 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 26 March 2015