Targeted Drug Therapy for Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Targeted therapy drugs attack parts of cancer cells that make them different from normal, healthy cells. These drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs, and they often have different types of side effects. Each type of targeted therapy works differently, but all of them affect the way a cancer cell grows, divides, repairs itself, or interacts with other cells.

As doctors learn more about the biology of sarcoma cells, targeted therapy is becoming an important treatment option for some of these cancers.

Pazopanib (Votrient)

Pazopanib blocks several cell enzymes called tyrosine kinases that are important for cell growth and survival. It may be used to treat certain advanced soft tissue sarcomas that have not responded to chemotherapy. It can help slow tumor growth and ease side effects in patients with sarcomas that cannot be removed with surgery. So far, though, it's not clear that this drug helps people live longer.

Pazopanib is taken in pill form, once a day.

Side effects

Common side effects include high blood pressure, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, changes in hair color, low blood cell counts, and liver problems. In some patients this drug causes abnormal results on liver function tests, but it rarely leads to severe liver damage that can be life threatening.

Bleeding, clotting, and wound healing problems are rare, but can occur as well. This drug also rarely causes a problem with the heart rhythm or even a heart attack.

If you're taking pazopanib, your doctor will monitor your heart with EKGs and do blood tests to check for liver problems or other changes.

Tazemetostat (Tazverik)

Tazemetostat works by targeting EZH2, a protein known as a methyltransferase that normally helps some cancer cells grow. This drug can be used to treat epithelioid sarcomas that can’t be removed completely by surgery. It can shrink or slow the growth of some of these cancers, although it’s not yet clear if it can help people live longer.

This drug is taken as pills, typically twice a day.

Side effects

The most common side effects of this drug include pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and constipation. Tazemetostat can also increase the risk of developing some types of blood cancers, including certain leukemias and lymphomas.

Other targeted drugs

Many other targeted drugs are now being used to treat other types of cancer, and some of these might also be helpful in treating certain types of soft tissue sarcomas. Examples of these drugs include:

  • Regorafenib (Stivarga)
  • Sorafenib (Nexavar)
  • Sunitinib (Sutent)
  • Larotrectinib (Vitrakvi) (for tumors with an NTRK gene change)
  • Entrectinib (Rozlytrek) (for tumors with an NTRK gene change)

More information about targeted therapy

To learn more about how targeted drugs are used to treat cancer, see Targeted Cancer Therapy.

To learn about some of the side effects listed here and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Nakano K, Takahashi S. Current Molecular Targeted Therapies for Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcomas. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(3):739.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Soft Tissue Sarcoma, Version 5.2019 – January 23, 2020. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/sarcoma.pdf on January 31, 2020.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. Votrient (pazopanib): Highlights of Prescribing Information. May 2017. Accessed at https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/sites/www.pharma.us.novartis.com/files/votrient.pdf on April 2, 2018.

References

Nakano K, Takahashi S. Current Molecular Targeted Therapies for Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcomas. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(3):739.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Soft Tissue Sarcoma, Version 5.2019 – January 23, 2020. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/sarcoma.pdf on January 31, 2020.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. Votrient (pazopanib): Highlights of Prescribing Information. May 2017. Accessed at https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/sites/www.pharma.us.novartis.com/files/votrient.pdf on April 2, 2018.

Last Revised: January 31, 2020

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