Targeted therapies for papillary and follicular thyroid cancer

The two main types of targeted therapy for thyroid cancer are sorafenib and lenvatinib. They interfere with the way cancer cells grow.

About targeted therapy for papillary and follicular thyroid cancer

Targeted therapies target something in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive. The 2 main targeted therapy drugs used to treat follicular or papillary thyroid cancer are:

They may be used if the cancer has come back, or has spread and is no longer responding to radioactive iodine treatment.

This information is about papillary and follicular thyroid cancer. We have more information about targeted therapy for medullary thyroid cancer and anaplastic thyroid cancer.

Sorafenib and lenvatinib

Sorafenib and lenvatinib are types of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), or multi-kinase inhibitors. They work by blocking (inhibiting) signals in the cancer cells that make them grow and divide. They can help to shrink the cancer and control the growth, sometimes for a long time.

You take sorafenib as tablets you swallow twice a day. You take lenvatinib as capsules you swallow once a day. 

The side effects may include:

Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you more information about the drugs and the possible side effects. When you first start, you usually visit the hospital every 2 weeks. This is to check how you are managing the side effects. After this, the visits will be less often.

Other targeted therapies

There are other targeted therapy drugs that are used to treat thyroid cancer. These types of drugs only work if you have a certain gene change (mutation) in the cancer cells. For example, they may work if you had the NTRK, RET or the BRAF gene. Your cancer doctor may send some thyroid tissue from your biopsy or surgery to be checked for these changes.

Your cancer doctor will discuss with you if any of these drugs are suitable and available for you.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our thyroid cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    British Medical Journal. Best Practice Guidelines, Thyroid cancer. 2020.

    European Society Medical Oncology (ESMO): Thyroid cancer, Clinical Practice Guidelines for Diagnosis, Treatment and Follow-up. 2019.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). TA535: Lenvatinib and Sorafenib for treating differentiated thyroid cancer after radioactive iodine. 2018. www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta535 [accessed May 2021].

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.