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New Developments in Cancer Research

Advances in Cancer Treatment Presented at the 46th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology


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Over 25,000 physicians, researchers and healthcare professionals from over 100 countries attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which was held in Chicago, IL, and featured the latest innovations in cancer research, quality, practice and technology.

Heart Problems in Childhood Cancer Survivors Tied to Specific Gene and Drug Dose
A study has shown that survivors of childhood cancer who carry particular variants of a drug-metabolizing gene (CBR) and who received low doses of anthracycline chemotherapy were much more likely to develop heart disease than those without these forms of the gene who received low doses. This finding may guide a more personalized approach to preventing toxicities associated with anthracycline chemotherapy among a specific subset of children with cancer. Prior to treatment, oncologists may be able to screen children for these gene variants, and based on these results, to choose non-cardiotoxic alternatives.

Older Women with Early-Stage Breast Cancer May Skip Radiation Therapy
Long-term follow-up from a randomized trial finds that women age 70 or older with early-stage breast cancer who undergo lumpectomy and receive tamoxifen can safely forego radiation therapy without significantly affecting their survival.

Radiation therapy after lumpectomy is the standard of care for younger women with early-stage breast cancer. For this study, researchers looked at whether this therapy is also appropriate for older women. Their analysis showed that while the risk of breast cancer recurrence in the same breast was slightly lower among the women who received tamoxifen plus radiation therapy compared with those who received tamoxifen alone, there were no significant differences in breast cancer-specific and overall survival.

Maintenance Therapy with Rituximab Halves Risk of Lymphoma Recurrence
A Phase III trial has found that two years of rituximab (Rituxan) “maintenance” therapy reduced the risk of follicular lymphoma recurrence by 50 percent in people who responded to initial chemotherapy. Based on these data, the manufacturer of rituximab has applied for approval for an expanded indication for rituximab as maintenance therapy in this population.

Yoga Improves Sleep and Quality of Life, Lessens Fatigue
Sleep problems and fatigue are among the most common side effects experienced by cancer survivors. A recent study has found that a four-week yoga program involving breathing, meditation, postures, and other techniques helped cancer survivors sleep better, reduced fatigue and the use of sleep aids, and improved their quality of life.

Lenalidomide Maintenance Therapy Slows Myeloma Progression
Results from an interim analysis of a Phase III trial show that maintenance therapy with lenalidomide (Revlimid) slowed disease progression by 54 percent among people with multiple myeloma who had prior high-dose chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant.

“These results are very promising. If confirmed in the final analysis, they suggest that maintenance therapy with lenalidomide can improve quality of life in patients with myeloma by delaying the need for more intensive therapy to treat a relapse,” said Michel Attal, PhD, lead author of the study.

Selenium Doesn’t Prevent Second Lung Cancers
A Phase III study of people treated for early-stage, non-small cell lung cancer finds that selenium supplements are not effective for preventing a second primary lung cancer from developing.

“There had been strong suggestive evidence that selenium could decrease the risk of a second primary lung tumor,” said Daniel Karp, MD, professor of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any evidence that it was any more effective in doing so than a placebo. Based on the data, we cannot recommend that patients with lung cancer take selenium to prevent a second primary tumor.”

Adding Radiation Therapy to Hormone Therapy Improves Survival in Men with Locally Advanced Prostate Cancer
Adding radiation therapy to androgen deprivation therapy decreases the risk of dying from prostate cancer by 43 percent in men with locally advanced or high-risk prostate cancer, compared to hormone therapy alone, a Phase III study confirms.

“This study will challenge the prevailing dogma of only using hormone therapy for locally advanced prostate cancer,” said Padraig Warde, MBCHB, deputy head of the Radiation Medicine program at the University of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. “We found that men who received the combination lived longer, and were less likely to die of their prostate cancer than those who had only hormone therapy. These results suggest that adding radiation therapy to the treatment plan for these patients could become part of standard therapy and should be considered.”

Bevacizumab Prolongs Progression-Free Survival for Advanced Ovarian Cancer
A Phase III trial finds that adding bevacizumab (Avastin) to initial chemotherapy treatment, and then using it as maintenance therapy, significantly slows disease progression in women with advanced epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal, or fallopian tube cancer. According to lead researcher Robert A. Burger, MD, “Based on the results of this Gynecologic Oncology Group trial, bevacizumab is an acceptable initial treatment option for patients with advanced ovarian, primary peritoneal, and fallopian tube cancers.”

Eribulin Increases Survival Among Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer
A Phase III trial finds that a new chemotherapy agent, eribulin mesylate, extends median overall survival by 2.5 months among women with locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer who had already been heavily treated with conventional therapies. Eribulin mesylate, which is derived from a marine sponge, is a type of “microtubule dynamics inhibitor” that affects cell division.

Drug Combination Increases Survival in Advanced Lung Cancer in the Elderly
A Phase III study has shown that a combination of two commonly used chemotherapy drugs, paclitaxel (Taxol) and carboplatin, significantly increased overall and progression-free survival in people age 70 or older with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, compared to the standard single-agent therapy. These findings suggest that older people should be considered for the same aggressive therapy as younger people.

Removing Axillary Lymph Nodes Based on Metastases in the Sentinel Node Does Not Improve Survival in Early Breast Cancer
Removing additional axillary lymph nodes to look for more breast cancer cells in women with limited disease spread in the sentinel node does not improve survival, according to a Phase III study. These findings are important because many physicians routinely remove multiple axillary nodes in women with micrometastases in the sentinel lymph node, which increases the risk of side effects, such as pain and swelling.

Breast Cancers that Spread to the Liver May Change Biology, Affecting Treatment Effectiveness
The choice of therapy for women with breast cancer is based on the status of key biological markers, such as estrogen and progesterone receptors and HER2. But doctors don’t routinely biopsy metastases, relying on the results of the primary tumor biopsy to guide treatment. However, a retrospective study of women with metastatic breast cancer shows that the biological characteristics of their primary tumors often change when the cancer spreads to the liver, requiring a change in therapy in many women.

Ipilimumab Improves Survival in Previously Treated Advanced Melanoma
A Phase III trial finds that people with advanced, previously treated melanoma who received the monoclonal antibody ipilimumab lived 34 percent longer than those who received the immunestimulating gp100 peptide vaccine. Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody. Unlike most treatments that target the cancer cell itself, ipilimumab represents a new class of drugs that activate the immune system’s T cells, which then seek and destroy melanoma cells.

Dasatinib Is More Effective than Imatinib for Newly Diagnosed CML
A study has found that after one year, dasatinib (Sprycel) is superior to the standard first-line drug, imatinib (Gleevec), for bringing about cytogenetic and molecular responses in people newly diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. Approximately one-third of people newly diagnosed with CML fail to achieve a complete cytogenetic response by 12 months with imatinib, developing resistance to the drug and increasing the risk of disease progression. According to lead author Hagop Kantarjian, MD, “Our findings suggest that by using dasatinib upfront in patients newly diagnosed with CML, we can improve outcomes.”

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For more information on these and other ASCO studies, visit Cancer.Net.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2010.