Targeted Therapy for Liver Cancer

As researchers have learned more about the changes in cells that cause cancer, they have been able to develop newer drugs that specifically target these changes. Targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs (which are described in Chemotherapy for Liver Cancer). They often have different (and sometimes less severe) side effects.

Like chemotherapy, these drugs enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body, which makes them potentially useful against cancers that have spread to distant organs. Because standard chemotherapy has not been effective in most patients with liver cancer, doctors have been looking at targeted therapies more.

Sorafenib (Nexavar)

Sorafenib is a targeted drug that works in 2 ways. It helps block tumors from forming new blood vessels, which they need to grow. It also targets some of the proteins on cancer cells that normally help them grow.

Sorafenib is a pill that is taken twice daily. The most common side effects of this drug include fatigue, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, high blood pressure, and redness, pain, swelling, or blisters on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

Less common but more serious side effects can include problems with blood flow to the heart, and perforations (holes) in the stomach or intestines.

Regorafenib (Stivarga)

Regorafenib blocks several proteins that normally either help tumor cells grow or help form new blood vessels to feed the tumor. Blocking these proteins can help stop the growth of cancer cells.

This drug can be used to treat liver cancer if sorafenib is no longer helpful. It is taken as pills, typically once a day for 3 weeks, followed by a week off.

Common side effects can include fatigue, loss of appetite, hand-foot syndrome (redness and irritation of the hands and feet), high blood pressure, fever, infections, weight loss, diarrhea, and abdominal (belly) pain.

Less common but more serious side effects can include serious liver damage, severe bleeding, problems with blood flow to the heart, and perforations (holes) in the stomach or intestines.

More information about targeted therapy drugs can be found in Targeted Cancer Therapy.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 31, 2016 Last Revised: April 27, 2017

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.