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Thyroid Cancer: Targeted Therapy

What is targeted therapy?

Targeted therapies use medicines designed to turn off cancer cell's ability to grow and to spread. They target only cancer cells, rather than all rapidly growing cells like chemotherapy does.

When might targeted therapy be used for thyroid cancer?

Doctors have found that targeted therapy is especially useful in treating medullary thyroid cancers (MTCs), which do not 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

Both of these are taken at home as a pill once a day. Other targeted therapy medicines might be tried if neither of these work.

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

  • Sorafenib

  • Lenvatinib

These are taken at home as pills.

What are common side effects of targeted therapy?

Some of the more common temporary 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

  • 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 these side effects. These medicines can also rarely cause severe side effects like infection, changes in heart rhythm, or severe bleeding. Tell your healthcare providers about any side effects you have. They can help you cope with the side effects.

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 and what side effects they might have. Also be sure to talk about any herbs, vitamins, and supplements you take, as some of these might cause interactions with your targeted therapy.

Talk with your healthcare providers about what signs to look for and when to call them. 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 physical, thinking, and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects.





Online Medical Reviewer: Hurd, Robert, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 2/3/2016
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