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About targeted cancer drugs

Learn more about targeted cancer drugs for soft tissue sarcoma. 

What targeted cancer drugs are

Cancer cells have changes in their genes (DNA) that make them different from normal cells. These changes mean that they behave differently. Cancer cells can grow faster than normal cells and sometimes spread. Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that a cancer cell has.

There are many different types of targeted drugs. The different types work in one (or sometimes more than one) of the following ways:

  • stop cancer cells from dividing and growing
  • seek out cancer cells and kill them
  • encourage the immune system to attack cancer cells
  • stop cancers from growing blood vessels
  • help carry other treatments such as chemotherapy, directly to the cancer cells

You might hear some targeted drugs called biological therapies. 

Targeted cancer drugs for soft tissue sarcoma

Targeted cancer drugs are used to try to shrink or control soft tissue sarcoma. This aims to help you live longer. These drugs often stop or slow the growth of your cancer for months, and sometimes years.

Different treatments work for different patients. Your doctor will look at your general health to decide on the best treatment for you. 

Types of targeted cancer drugs for soft tissue sarcoma

Imatinib (Glivec)

Imatinib is used to treat a 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 is only used for people who have a high risk of their GIST coming back. 

Imatinib may also be used to treat a very rare, low grade type of sarcoma called a dermatofibrosarcoma protruberans (DFSP). DFSP develops in the skin.

Sunitinib (Sutent)

Sunitinib is a treatment for people with GIST who have had imatinib (Glivec) and this treatment has not worked, or has caused severe side effects.

Regorafenib (Stivarga)

Regorafenib (Stivarga) is used in the UK to treat people with advanced GIST. It is for people who have had treatment with imatinib (Glivec) and sunitinib and these treatments have not worked, or they have caused severe side effects. Advanced GIST means you cannot have surgery to remove the GIST, or the GIST has spread.

Olaratumab (Lartruvo)

Olaratumab (Lartruvo) with doxorubicin is a possible treatment for advanced soft tissue sarcoma in adults. It can only be used by people who:

  • have not had chemotherapy before by injection or by mouth
  • cannot have their sarcoma removed by surgery
  • have had radiotherapy and it has not worked

Other targeted drugs

Researchers are looking at whether other trageted drugs can help people with soft tissue sarcoma. They include:

  • pazopanib (Votrient)
  • axitinib (Inlyta)
  • cediranib (Recentin)
  • deforolimus
Last reviewed: 
03 Apr 2018
  • Various guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Scottish Medicines Consortium website
    Accessed April, 2018

  • Developments in the management of advanced soft-tissue sarcoma – olaratumab in context

    G Morincini and others 

    Onco targets and therapy (2018) volume 11, pages 833-842

  • Current Molecular Targeted Therapies for Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcomas

    K Nakano and others 

    International journal of meloecular sciences (2018), volume 19, number 739

  • Novel Insights into the Treatment of Imatinib-Resistant Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors

    C Serrano and others 

    Targeted oncology (2017), volume 12, number 3, pages 277-288

  • REGOSARC: Regorafenib Versus Placebo in Doxorubicin-Refractory Soft-Tissue Sarcoma— A Quality-Adjusted Time Without Symptoms of Progression or Toxicity Analysis

    V Berry and others 

    Cancer (2017) volume 123, number 12, pages 2294-2302