Thyroid Cancer: Targeted Therapy

What is targeted therapy?

Targeted therapies use medicines that turn off cancer cell's ability to grow and to spread. They focus on changes found in cancer cells, rather than all rapidly growing cells like chemotherapy does.

When might targeted therapy be used for thyroid cancer?

Healthcare providers have found that targeted therapy is especially useful in treating medullary thyroid cancers (MTCs). These cancers, don't respond to the usual iodine- and hormone-based treatments that work for the other types of thyroid cancer.

Papillary or follicular thyroid cancers that don't respond to the usual treatments may be treated with targeted therapy, too.

How is targeted therapy given for thyroid cancer?

Some of the targeted therapy medicines used to treat MTCs are:

  • Vandetanib

  • Cabozantinib

If these don't work, and a clinical trial is not available, one of these medicines may be tried:

  • Sorafenib

  • Lenvatinib

  • Vandetanib

  • Cobozanitinib

If these don't work, and a clinical trial is not available, one of these medicines may be tried:

  • Subitinib

  • Axitinib

  • Everolimus

  • Pazopanib

  • Vemurafenib

All of these medicines are pills taken at home.

Targeted therapy medicines that may be used to treat papillary or follicular thyroid cancers are:

  • Sorafenib

  • Lenvatinib

  • Vandetanib

  • Sunitinib

These are taken at home as pills.

What are common side effects of targeted therapy?

Some of the more common short-term side effects from targeted therapy include:

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • High blood pressure

  • Headache

  • Tiredness or fatigue

  • Decreased appetite and weight loss

  • Mouth sores

  • Skin problems, such as dryness, rash, blistering, or darkening skin

  • Impaired wound healing

  • Hand-foot syndrome (redness, pain, and swelling in hands or feet)

  • Belly pain

Most of these side effects will go away or get better after treatment ends. You may also be able to help control some of them. These medicines can also cause severe side effects like infection, changes in heart rhythm, or severe bleeding. But these are rare. Tell your healthcare providers about any side effects you have. They can help you cope with the side effects.

Your healthcare provider may also need to do tests of your kidney, thyroid, and other functions during these treatments.

Working with your healthcare provider

It's important to know which medicines you're taking. Write your medicines down, and ask your healthcare team how they work. Also ask your team about what side effects might happen. Be sure to talk about any herbs, vitamins, and supplements you take, because some of these might interact with your targeted therapy.

Talk with your healthcare providers about what signs you need to look for and what to do if you have any. Ask them about those signs that you should call them about. For example, some types of targeted therapy can make you more likely to get infections. Make sure you know what number to call with questions. Is there a different number for evenings and weekends?

It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down any physical, thinking, and emotional changes. It will make it easier for you to work with your healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects. A written list will also make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments.