Drug and biological therapies

You may be offered biological and/or drug therapies, often together with other treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or surgery.

Biological/targeted therapies

These targeted drugs focus on the gene changes in the cells that cause cancer. They work differently from chemotherapy drugs and often have different (and less severe) side effects. They are most often used along with chemotherapy. Many types are still experimental.

They can:

  • stop tumours from growing
  • seek out cancer cells and kill them
  • encourage your immune system to attack cancer cells.

They include drugs such as sorafenib, which is used to treat primary liver cancer (HCC) and kidney cancer.

Cancer Research UK has more information about biological therapies.

Drug therapies

These work in many different ways. You may take a combination of medicines and you may have them with other treatments. They can be used to:

  • cure cancer, by causing cancer cells to die off
  • slow down or stop the growth of tumours
  • make tumours shrink so they are easier to remove with surgery
  • control symptoms, such as easing pain or sickness
  • prevent damage caused by other treatments, such as controlling bone thinning or reducing your risk of breaking bones.

You may have to take the drugs for days, weeks or months. Each medicine has different risks and benefits which we will explain to you before you take it.

There are many types of drug therapy, including:

  • Hormone therapy, which blocks the effects of the hormones that some cancers use to grow. Cancers that respond to this type of treatment include breast, prostate, ovarian, womb/endometrial and kidney. Cancer Research UK has more information about hormone therapy.
  • Bisphosphonates, which slow down or prevent bone damage caused by cancer or other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and hormone therapies. They can also stop some types of cancer from spreading into the bones. Cancer Research UK has more information about bisphosphonates.