Cancer growth blockers (2023)

Cancer growth blockers are also called cancer growth inhibitors. They are a type of targeted cancer drug.

Our body makes chemicals called growth factors that control cell growth. Cancer growth blockers work by blocking the growth factors that trigger cancer cells to divide and grow.

There are many types of cancer growth blockers that work in different ways.

What are growth factors?

Growth factors are chemicals produced by the body that control cell growth. There are many different types of growth factors and they all work in different ways.

Some growth factors tell cells what type of cells they should become (how they should specialise). Some make cells grow and divide into new cells. Some tell cells to stop growing or to die.

Growth factors work by binding toreceptorson the cell surface. This sends a signal to the inside of the cell, which sets off a chain of complicated chemical reactions.

Types of growth factor

There are a number of different growth factors. These include:

  • epidermal growth factor (EGF) – controls cell growth
  • vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) – controls blood vessel development
  • platelet derived endothelial growth factor (PDGF) – controls blood vessel development and cell growth
  • fibroblast growth factor (FGF) – controls cell growth

Each growth factor works by attaching to the corresponding receptor on the cell surface. For example, EGF binds to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).

Tyrosine Kinases are chemical messengers (enzymes) used by cells to control how they grow and divide. They act like an ‘on-off’ switch.When the growth factor attaches to the outside of the cell it switches the tyrosine kinase ‘on’. This signals the cell to divide.

Cancer growth blockers (1)

What are cancer growth blockers?

A cancer growth blocker is a targeted drug that blocks the growth factors that trigger cancer cells to divide and grow. Scientists are looking at different ways of doing this such as:

  • lowering levels of the growth factor in the body
  • blocking the growth factor receptor on the cancer cell
  • blocking the signals inside the cell that start up when the growth factor triggers the receptor

Most of these treatments work by blocking the signalling processes that cancer cells use to divide.

Cancer cells are often very sensitive to growth factors. So if we can block them, we can stop some types of cancer from growing and dividing. Scientists are developing different inhibitors for the different types of growth factors.

It isn't easy to group targeted therapies into differenttypes because the groupsoften overlap. This can be confusing. For example, some cancer growth blockers stop the growth of blood vessels to the growing cancer. So they are also working as an anti angiogenic drugs. Some cancer growth blockersare also a monoclonal antibody.

  • Go to more information about the different types of targeted drugs

Types of cancer growth blockers

There are many different types of cancer growth blockers. They can be grouped according to the types of chemical that they block. There are some examples below.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors(TKIs)block chemical messengers (enzymes) called tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases help to send growth signals in cells, so blocking them stops the cell growing and dividing.

Cancer growth blockers can block one type of tyrosine kinase or more than one type. TKIs that block more than one type of tyrosine kinase are called multi TKIs.

Single TKI

Cancer growth blockers (2)

Multi TKI

Cancer growth blockers (3)

Examples of TKIs include:

  • axitinib (Inlyta)
  • dasatinib (Sprycel)
  • erlotinib (Tarceva)
  • imatinib (Glivec)
  • nilotinib (Tasigna)
  • pazopanib (Votrient)
  • sunitinib (Sutent)

You take these TKIs as tablets or capsules, usually once or twice a day.

  • Go to the list of cancer drugs

Proteasome inhibitors

Proteasomes are tiny, barrel shaped structures found in all cells. They help break down proteins the cell doesn't need into smaller parts. The cell can then use them to make new proteins that it does need.

Drug treatments that block proteasomes from working are called proteasome inhibitors. They cause a build up of unwanted proteins in the cell, which makes the cancer cells die.

Doctors use proteasome inhibitors to treat myeloma. Examples include:

  • bortezomib (Velcade)
  • carfilzomib (Kyprolis)
  • ixazomib (Ninlaro)
  • Read more about bortezomib

mTOR inhibitors

mTOR is a type of protein called a kinase protein. It can make cells produce chemicals (such as cyclins)that trigger cell growth. It may also make cells produce proteins that trigger the development of new blood vessels. Cancers need new blood vessels in order to grow.

In some types of cancer mTOR is switched on, which makes the cancer cells grow and produce new blood vessels. mTOR blockers (inhibitors) can stop the growth of some types of cancer.

mTOR inhibitors include:

  • temsirolimus (Torisel)
  • everolimus (Afinitor)
  • For more information about these drugs, go to our list of cancer drugs

PI3K inhibitors

PI3Ksare a group of closely related kinase proteins. Their full name isphospho inositide 3 kinases.

They do a number of different things in cells. For example, they act like switches in the cellturning on other proteins such as mTOR (see above). Switching on PI3Ks mightmake cells grow and multiply, or trigger the development of blood vessels, or help cells to move around.

In some cancers PI3K is permanently switched on, which means that the cancer cells grow uncontrollably. Researchers have beendeveloping new treatments that inhibitPI3K. For example,idelalisib (Zydelig) is now available as a treatment for some people withchronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).

  • More information about idelalisib

Histone deacetylase inhibitors

Histone deacetylase inhibitors are also called HDAC inhibitors or HDIs.

They block the action of a group ofenzymesthat remove chemicals called acetyl groups from particular proteins. This can stop the cancer cell from using some genes that would help it to grow and divide. Thismightkill the cancer cellcompletely.

HDACs are a newer type of cancer growth blocker. Panobinostat is an example of an HDAC. It is a treatment for myeloma.Researchers are looking at some other HDACs including:

  • vorinostat
  • romidepsin
  • Find a clinical trial

Hedgehog pathway blockers

Hedgehog pathway blockers are drugs that target a group of proteins known as the hedgehog pathway. In the developing embryo, these proteins send signals that help cells to grow in the right place and in the right way.

The hedgehog pathway can also control the growth of blood vessels and nerves. In adults, hedgehog pathway proteins are not usually active. But in some people, changes in a gene switch them on. Hedgehog pathway blockers are designed to switch off the proteins and stop the growth of the cancer.

Vismodegib (Erivedge)is an example of a hedgehog pathway blocker. It is used in some situations to treat people with basal cell skin cancer that has spread.

  • Go to more information about vismodegib

BRAF and MEK inhibitors

BRAF inhibitors directly block a protein called BRAF. BRAF is a chemical messenger (enzyme) that controls how cells grow and send signals.

Some cancers have a change (mutation) in the BRAF gene. This genetic change makes the cancer cells produce too much BRAF protein, which can make cancer cells grow. BRAF inhibitors block the BRAF proteins and can stop cancer cells growing.

BRAF inhibitors are a treatment for advanced melanoma. Examples include:

  • vemurafenib (Zelboraf)
  • dabrafenib (Tafinlar)
  • encorafenib (Braftovi)

The BRAF protein can affect other proteins, such as MEK, which makes cancer cells divide and grow in an uncontrolled way. MEK inhibitors are another type of targeted cancer drug. They work by blocking the MEK protein, which slows down the growth of cancer cells. Two MEK inhibitors for melanoma are:

  • trametinib (Mekinist)
  • binimetinib (Mektovi)

You usually have a BRAF inhibitor with a MEK inhibitor. This is because having the combination of both drugs can work better.

How you have them

Cancer growth blockers are often tablets which you swallow once or twice a day.

You might have some cancer growth blockers as an injection under the skin (subcutaneous injection), or through a drip (infusion) into a vein.

How often you have treatment and how many treatments you need will depend on:

  • which drug you have
  • the type of cancer you have


Before you have some types of cancer growth blockersyou might need to have tests using some ofyour cancer cells or a blood sample to find out whether the treatment is likely to work. These tests look for changes in certain proteins or genes.

Your cancer specialistcan tell you if this applies to your treatment. This is not the case forall cancer growth blockers and you don’t always need this test.

To test your cancer cells, your specialist needsa sample (biopsy)of your cancer. Theymight be able totest some tissue from a biopsy or operation you have already had.

Possible side effects

All treatments can cause side effects. While there are general side effects for a type of treatment, they vary for each individual drug.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any of these effects. You may be able to have medicines to help to control them.

General side effects

In general, cancer growth blockers can cause:

  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • diarrhoea
  • skin changes, such as rashes or discolouration
  • a sore mouth
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • low blood counts
  • swelling of parts of the body, due to build up of fluid

Specific side effects

Some cancer growth blockers are more likely to cause some side effects and these can sometimes be serious. For example, some cancer growth blockers are more likely to cause a serious skin rash. Your team will tell you about this before your start treatment and what to do if you develop side effects.

  • Look up the individual side effects of your cancer drug


What kills cancer cells in the body naturally? ›

Top 5 Effective Cancer-Fighting Foods
  • Cruciferous vegetables. Beet, radish, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and mustard greens are some of the vegetables that belong to the Brassicaceae family of vegetables. ...
  • Green Leafy Vegetables. ...
  • Garlic. ...
  • Tomatoes. ...
  • Berries.

How do you deal with Stage 4 cancer diagnosis? ›

If you can, have a consistent daily routine. Make time each day for exercising, getting enough sleep and eating meals. Exercise and participating in activities that you enjoy also may help. People who get exercise during treatment not only deal better with side effects but also may live longer.

How do you slow down cancer cell growth? ›

Certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, oats, whole grains, spices and teas provide unique benefits not found in other foods. These benefits help reduce the risks of certain cancers and can even slow tumor growth and recurrence. Most of these plant-based foods provide plenty of other health benefits too.

What is the enzyme that kills cancer cells? ›

Arginase and Autophagy

Another arginine degrading enzyme used for cancer therapy is arginase I.

What is the number 1 cancer fighting food? ›

"Cancer-fighting foods"

The list is usually topped with berries, broccoli, tomatoes, walnuts, grapes and other vegetables, fruits and nuts. "If you look at the typical foods that reduce cancer risk, it's pretty much all plant foods that contain phytochemicals," says Wohlford.

What foods destroy cancer cells? ›

There are many different foods you can eat to kill cancer cells; here are some of the most effective: legumes, flaxseeds, tea, garlic, whole grains, and more. All of these foods have been studied and shown to have beneficial effects at inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in the body.

What vitamins fight cancer? ›

Antioxidant supplements such as co enzyme Q10, selenium and the vitamins A, C and E can help to prevent cell damage. But there is some evidence that taking high dose antioxidant supplements during cancer treatment might make the treatment less effective.

Has anyone ever survived Stage 4 cancer? ›

Although the overall prognosis may be poor based on cases with previous patients and older treatments, many patients with stage 4 cancer can live for years.

What is Stage 5 cancer mean? ›

The term stage 5 isn't used with most types of cancer. Most advanced cancers are grouped into stage 4. An exception is Wilms tumor, or nephroblastoma, a childhood cancer that originates in the kidneys. Stage 5 Wilms tumors are those that affect both kidneys.

Can Stage 4 cancer go into remission? ›

Thanks to newer cancer treatments, some but not all advanced cancers (Stage IV cancer) may go into partial or complete remission.

What diet shrinks tumors? ›

Ketogenic diets selectively starve tumors by providing the fat and protein that otherwise could not be used by glucose-dependent tumor cells.

What is the hardest tumor to treat? ›

Why is glioblastoma typically hard to treat? As glioblastoma grows, it spreads into the surrounding brain. This makes it difficult to remove the entire tumor with surgery. Although radiation therapy and chemotherapy can reach the tumors, glioblastoma cells can survive and regrow.

What pill shrinks tumors? ›

A class of drugs known as CDK4/6 inhibitors, which have been approved for treating some types of breast cancer, may have much more to offer than previously thought. Not only can they stop tumors from growing by halting cell division, but they can also “spur the immune system to attack and shrink” them.

What triggers cancer cell growth? ›

Most cancer-causing DNA changes occur in sections of DNA called genes. These changes are also called genetic changes. A DNA change can cause genes involved in normal cell growth to become oncogenes. Unlike normal genes, oncogenes cannot be turned off, so they cause uncontrolled cell growth.

What not to eat when you have cancer? ›

Foods to Avoid During Cancer Treatment
  • Cold hot dogs or deli lunch meat (cold cuts)—Always cook or reheat until the meat is steaming hot.
  • Dry-cured, uncooked salami.
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk and milk products, including raw milk yogurt.
Apr 29, 2014

Why is my cancer growing so fast? ›

Cancer cells graded as poorly differentiated or undifferentiated (meaning they have more genetic damage) tend to grow more quickly than those graded as undetermined or well-differentiated (meaning they have less genetic damage).

What helps get rid of cancer cells? ›

Surgery: An operation where doctors cut out tissue with cancer cells. Chemotherapy: Special medicines that shrink or kill cancer cells that we cannot see. Radiation therapy: Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer cells. Hormone therapy: Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.

What is the pill that shrinks cancer? ›

In a very small trial done by doctors at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, patients took a drug called dostarlimab for six months. The trial resulted in every single one of their tumors disappearing.

What is the most effective drug against cancer? ›

Top of the best cancer drug list is Celgene's Revlimid (lenalidomide). This drug has been very successful in the treatment of multiple myeloma as it promotes immune responses that slow tumour growth. It is also used to treat myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).

Is there a pill that prevents cancer? ›

Taking medicines to help lower the risk of getting a disease is called chemoprevention. The most commonly used medicines to lower breast cancer risk are tamoxifen and raloxifene. Other medicines called aromatase inhibitors (such as anastrozole and exemestane) might also be options.


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