Fatal Side Effects in 3 Cancer Therapies

Kidney and liver cancer drugs have increased risk of fatal side effects

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Targeted therapies are among the latest advances in treating cancer. They target specific genetic defects an individual has. And while the benefits are impressive, some of these drugs do have dangerous side effects.

Three fairly new drugs that are approved to treat three different types of cancer have been associated with slightly higher risks of fatal side effects. The medications are Nexavar (sorafenib), Sutent (sunitinib) and Votrient (pazopanib).

"Talk to your pharmacist about all the side effects of medications you're taking."

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute conducted the new analysis. They said the risks of fatal bleeding, heart attacks, heart failure and liver failure are low, but should be considered by both physicians and patients.

All three drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA):

  • Nexavar treats kidney and liver cancer.
  • Sutent treats kidney cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST).
  • Votrient treats kidney cancer.

The findings are based on a meta-analysis performed on 10 clinical trials involving 4,679 patients treated with the drugs.

Study leader, Toni Choueiri, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, suggests that prescribing physicians take into consideration that fatal side effects were seen in 1.5 percent of patients, compared to 0.7 percent of patients given drugs that have been around longer or a placebo.

"The patient should be given all the information, and then he or she can balance the pros and cons in deciding whether to take the next step into treatment," said Dr. Choueiri.

He suggests that patients who are at elevated risks of bleeding or heart disease need to be closely monitored if they're taking these drugs; the regimen may need to be temporarily halted, or elective surgeries may need to be canceled while these drugs are being taken.

Dr. Choueiri adds that caution should be used in prescribing these medications for patients who have had heart attacks.

When asked to comment on this study, Adam Brufsky, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told dailyRx, "It demonstrates that there does remain risk with these drugs that needs to be taken into account. However, the benefits of these drugs in many cases are substantial, and outweigh risks. Physicians should continue to use caution, as they are currently doing, said Dr. Brufsky, who was not involved in this research.

Findings from this study were published February 6, 2012 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The study was supported by the Trust Family Research Fund for Kidney Cancer.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 6, 2012
Last Updated:
February 6, 2012