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What Is Sunitinib Used For?

Your healthcare provider may recommend the use of sunitinib if you have been diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, this chemotherapy drug is approved to treat cancer of the pancreas, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract. This medication works by blocking tyrosine kinase, an enzyme that tells cancer cells to grow and divide. At this time, it is not approved for use in children.

An Overview of Uses for Sunitinib

Sunitinib (SUTENT®) is a prescription medication approved to treat certain types of kidney, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal (GI) cancers. It belongs to a class of medicines called tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Using Sunitinib for Kidney Cancer

Sunitinib is approved to treat advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC), a type of cancer that starts in the lining of very small tubes (called tubules) in the kidneys. There are other types of kidney cancer; however, RCC is the most common.
RCC is considered advanced when the cancer cells have spread beyond the kidneys to other areas of the body. Advanced RCC is also sometimes called stage IV cancer or metastatic kidney cancer. The goal of treatment for advanced kidney cancer is to slow the progression of the disease and relieve symptoms.

Sunitinib Uses for Pancreatic Cancer

Sunitinib is approved to treat a type of pancreatic cancer known as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNET). PNETs are found in certain tissues of the pancreas where hormones are produced. This area of the pancreas is sometimes called the "endocrine pancreas." The cells found in the endocrine pancreas are called "islet cells." For this reason, PNET is also sometimes called pancreatic islet cell cancer (see Pancreatic Islet Cell Cancer for more information about this condition).
PNET should not be confused with the more common pancreatic cancer that occurs in the exocrine pancreas, the part of the pancreas where digestive juices are produced.
Surgical removal of the cancerous tumors is the most common treatment for PNET. However, if the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas, surgical removal may not be an option. Sunitinib is approved to treat PNET that has spread just beyond the pancreas (is "locally advanced") or to other areas of the body (is "metastatic") and cannot be treated with surgery.
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