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What’s New in Cancer Research?

Highlights of the 49th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology


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First-in-Class Targeted Drug Improves Advanced Lung Cancer Survival
Findings from a large phase II study point to a promising new second-line therapy for advanced lung cancer. The heat shock protein (Hsp) 90 inhibitor ganetespib combined with standard docetaxel extended overall survival compared to docetaxel alone.

Lower-Dose Radiation Safer, More Effective Than Higher-Dose Radiation for Advanced NSCLC
A phase III trial in people with stage III non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) shows standard-dose radiation therapy (60 Gy) is superior to high-dose radia­tion therapy (74 Gy) in terms of both treatment effectiveness and survival. Standard dose was also associated with significantly fewer treatment-related deaths. Many doctors have been using higher-dose therapy, expecting better outcomes. These results should dis­courage this approach and reinforce existing recommendations.

Surveillance Following Surgery Is Sufficient for Stage I Seminoma
The largest study to date of men with stage I seminoma, a common form of testicular cancer, finds that 99.6 percent of men followed on surveillance alone after surgery are alive 10 years after their initial diag- nosis. Roughly half of U.S. men with this type of cancer currently undergo chemotherapy or radiation following surgery to improve outcomes; these findings suggest such treatments may not be necessary for most.

Axillary Radiotherapy Is a Safe Alternative to Axillary Lymph Node Surgery, Can Reduce Risk of Lymphedema
Findings from a randomized phase III study indicate that women with early-stage breast cancer and positive sentinel lymph nodes have equally good survival at five years after treatment with either axillary radiotherapy or lymph node surgery. However, the rates of lymph­edema were substantially higher in the surgery arm compared to the radio­therapy arm.

Maintenance Therapy with Pazopanib Delays Advanced Ovarian Cancer Relapse
Findings from a phase III study of women with advanced ovarian cancer show that the multi-targeted drug pazo­panib (Votrient) prolongs disease-free survival by an average of 5.6 months compared to placebo when given after initial chemotherapy.

New Immunotherapy Combination Appears Promising for Metastatic Melanoma
A phase II study of people with metastatic melanoma finds that adding GM-CSF (Sargramostin, Leukine), a widely used white blood cell booster, to ipilimumab (Yervoy) extends overall survival compared to ipilimumab alone. This first study of GM-CSF and ipilim­umab confirms that the concept of combining immunotherapy approaches may be beneficial. Interestingly, the combination also appears to be safer than ipilimumab alone – GM-CSF decreased some of the serious side effects of ipilimumab.

Selumetinib May Be the First Active Drug for Advanced Melanoma of the Eye
A phase II study reports that the targeted drug selumetinib shows strong clinical activity in people with advanced melanoma of the eye harboring common Gnaq/Gna11 gene abnormalities.

Cetuximab is Superior to Bevacizumab in Combination with FOLFIRI for First-Line Treatment of Metastatic Colorectal Cancer
A phase III study finds that first-line cetuximab (Erbitux) plus FOLFIRI leads to an approximate four-month survival gain compared to bevacizumab (Avastin) plus FOLFIRI. While both treatment combinations are currently used for advanced colorectal cancer with no KRAS gene alterations, these new results indicate that cetuximab is the better choice for first-line therapy when used in combination with FOLFIRI.

First Effective Biologic Treatment for Metastatic or Relapsed Cervical Cancer
A randomized phase III study reports that adding bevacizumab (Avastin) to standard chemotherapy improved sur­vival for women with advanced cervical cancer. This is the first time a biologic drug has significantly prolonged sur­vival in this setting.

Two Common Adjuvant Chemotherapy Regimens Have Comparable Efficacy but Differ in Side Effects
A phase III study reports that a lower-dose, weekly regimen of adju­vant paclitaxel (Taxol) chemotherapy for women with early-stage breast cancer was comparable to the standard-dose, biweekly regimen, but caused substantially fewer side effects.

Sorafenib Shown Effective for Certain Aggressive Thyroid Cancers
Interim findings from a phase III study indicate that the multi-targeted drug sorafenib (Nexavar) extends progression-free survival for people with differentiated thyroid cancer that is resistant to standard radioactive iodine therapy. The delay in tumor growth improves the quality of life for these people, sparing them from hospi­talizations and invasive treatments. If approved by the FDA, sorafenib would become the first new active drug for this form of thyroid cancer in 40 years.

Longer Tamoxifen Therapy Reduces Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence
A randomized phase III study conducted in the UK reports that women with early-stage estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer who took tamoxifen for 10 years following treatment for their primary cancer had roughly 25 percent lower rates of breast cancer recurrence and death compared to those who took the drug for 5 years, as currently recommended. These findings will likely influence the care of hundreds of thousands of women taking tamoxifen worldwide.

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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 2013.