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 parts of cancer cells that make 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.

Olaratumab (Lartruvo)

This drug is a type of monoclonal antibody, which is a manmade version of an immune system protein. It targets PDGFR-alpha, a protein on tumor cells that can help them grow. By blocking this protein, olaratumab can cause some tumors to shrink or stop growing. This may help people live longer.

This drug can be used along with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin to treat soft tissue sarcomas that cannot be cured with radiation therapy or surgery.

Olaratumab is given by infusion into a vein (IV). Some people have allergic-like reactions while getting this drug, which can cause symptoms such as low blood pressure, fever, chills, and rash. Less often, reactions can be more serious or even life-threatening. Other possible side effects of this drug include nausea and vomiting, feeling tired, muscle or joint pain, swelling in the mouth or throat, hair loss, headache, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and nerve damage (neuropathy), which can cause numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands or feet.

Pazopanib (Votrient)

Pazopanib 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.

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: December 29, 2014 Last Revised: February 9, 2016

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