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Targeted therapy for liver cancer
Most people with liver cancer may eventually need to have targeted therapy. It uses drugs to target specific molecules (such as proteins) on the surface of cancer cells. These molecules help send signals that tell cells to grow or divide. By targeting these molecules, the drugs stop the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting harm to normal cells. Targeted therapy may also be called molecular targeted therapy.
You may have targeted therapy if you have advanced liver cancer and:
- you can’t have surgery
- the cancer no longer responds to other treatments, such as transarterial chemoembolization (TACE)
- you still have good liver function with a Child-Pugh score of A or, in rare cases, B
Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of targeted therapy.
Targeted therapy drugs used for liver cancer
The drug used for advanced liver cancer is sorafenib (Nexavar). Research shows that this drug improves survival and slows the growth of the tumour in people with advanced liver cancer.
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for liver cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.
Targeted therapy doesn’t usually damage healthy cells, so it tends to cause fewer and less severe side effects than chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If side effects develop with targeted therapy, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after targeted therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after targeted therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of targeted therapy will depend mainly on the type of drug and your overall health. Sorafenib may cause these side effects:
- skin problems, including redness, itching, dryness, and blisters on the hands and feet
- bone marrow suppression
- nausea and vomiting
- hair loss
- loss of appetite
- taste changes
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from targeted therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
Information about specific cancer drugs
Details on specific drugs change quite regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.
Questions to ask about targeted therapy
Taking action against all cancers
The latest Canadian Cancer Statistics report found that of all newly diagnosed cancers in 2017, half are expected to be lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers. Learn what you can do to reduce the burden of cancer.