Sarcoma: Adult Soft Tissue Cancer

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Treating Sarcoma - Adult Soft Tissue Cancer TOPICS

Targeted therapy for soft tissue sarcoma

Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack cancer cells while doing little damage to normal cells. These therapies attack the cancer cells' inner workings − the programming that makes them different from normal, healthy cells. Each type of targeted therapy works differently, but all alter the way a cancer cell grows, divides, repairs itself, or interacts with other cells.

Pazopanib (Votrient®)

At this time, pazopanib is the only targeted therapy drug approved to treat soft tissue sarcoma. It blocks several cellular enzymes called tyrosine kinases that are important for cell growth and survival. In a study of patients with advanced soft tissue sarcomas that had been treated with chemotherapy, pazopanib stopped the cancers from growing for an average of about 3 months longer than the patients given a sugar pill. So far, though, this drug hasn’t been shown to help patients live longer. This drug is taken in pill form, once a day.

Common side effects include high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, low blood cell counts, and liver problems. In some patients this drug causes abnormal results on liver function tests, but it also rarely leads to severe liver damage that can be life threatening. Bleeding, clotting, and wound healing problems can occur, as well. This drug also rarely causes a problem with the heart rhythm or even a heart attack. If you are taking pazopanib, your doctor will monitor your heart with EKGs as well as check your blood tests to check for liver or other problems.

Imatinib (Gleevec®)

Imatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor drug approved to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumors and some kinds of leukemia. It also can be helpful in treating desmoid tumors that can’t be removed with surgery. Although it rarely causes tumors to shrink, it often causes them to stop growing for a time, which can be very helpful.

Side effects can include mild stomach upset, diarrhea, muscle pain, and skin rashes. The stomach upset is lessened if the drug is taken with food. Imatinib can also make people retain fluid. Often this causes some swelling in the face (around the eyes) or in the ankles. Rarely the drug causes more severe problems, such as fluid build up in the lungs or abdomen or causing problems with heart function.

If you’d like more information on a drug used in your treatment or a specific drug mentioned in this section, ask your health care team, see our Guide to Cancer Drugs, or call us with the names of the medicines you’re taking.


Last Medical Review: 10/21/2013
Last Revised: 02/06/2014