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Drugs that block cancer blood vessel growth (anti angiogenics)

Anti angiogenic drugs are treatments that stop tumours from growing their own blood vessels. This might slow the growth of the cancer or sometimes shrink it. 

There are different types of anti angiogenic drugs. These work in different ways. 

What is anti angiogenesis treatment?

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 2 mm across, a tumour needs to grow its own blood vessels in order to continue to get bigger.

Angiogenesis means the growth of new blood vessels. So 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.

How does cancer grow its own bloody supply?

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.

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. 

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: 
13 Jan 2021
Next review due: 
10 Jan 2024
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    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
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    J Jászai and M H H Schmidt
    Cells 2019 Sep 18;8(9):1102. 

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    N A Seebacher and others
    Journal of Experimental Clinical Cancer Research 2019 Apr 11: 38 (1): 156

  • 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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