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Targeted Drugs, Lung CT Screening Top Cancer Advances in 2011

December 6, 2011
By

TUESDAY, Dec. 6 (HealthDay News) — As the war against cancer
continues, a group representing U.S. oncologists has picked its “Top Five”
list of advances in cancer care for 2011.

Leading the list are approvals for a bevy of new, targeted drugs for
tough-to-treat malignancies, plus promising results suggesting CT chest
scans may be an early-detection screen for lung cancer.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) this week issued its
annual report on progress against cancer. The report was published online
Dec. 5 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“The big news has been targeted drug therapy,” noted Dr. Nicholas
Vogelzang, head of the section of genitourinary cancer at the Nevada
Cancer Institute in Las Vegas and co-executive editor of the report.

“We now have drugs that are very selective for some solid tumors. We
now have [new] drugs affecting melanoma and lung cancer, which is pretty
sweet,” he said. “We don’t know how long the responses to these drugs
last — they appear to be pretty short — but some of them are truly
dramatic.”

CT-based lung cancer screening was the other big news in the cancer
field this past year, Vogelzang noted. “People who smoke have a huge
increase in lung cancer — 40 times that of the general population. If you
stop the risk drops, but it never goes back to zero.”

However, a widely reported study published earlier this year by the
U.S. National Cancer Institute found that screening smokers and former
smokers with a CT chest scan was “dramatically better than the chest
X-ray,” Vogelzang said.

According to experts at ASCO, this year’s top five advances
include:

  • A trial of the drug vemurafenib (Zelboraf), which targets a key gene
    mutation in melanoma. The study found improved survival in patients with
    advanced melanoma compared with standard chemotherapy.
  • A screening trial of more than 50,000 current and former heavy smokers
    found that three yearly low-dose CT scans reduced the death risk from lung
    cancer by 20 percent compared with people screened with three annual chest
    X-rays. Some experts have said that more study may be needed before
    recommending regular CT screening for all smokers, however, pointing to
    factors such as cost and high rates of false-positive results.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted approval to crizotinib
    (Xalkori) for patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer who have a
    specific gene mutation. In one study, 50 percent of patients talking the
    medication saw their tumors shrink completely or partially for an average
    of 10 months. Another study found a 61 percent response rate that lasted
    an average of 12 months.
  • The FDA also approved ipilimumab (Yervoy) for patients with previously
    untreated metastatic melanoma. The drug works by activating the patient’s
    immune response. The trial showed that when combined with standard
    chemotherapy using dacarbazine, Yervoy extended life by two months.
  • Finally, there was the first conclusive evidence that exemestane
    (Aromasin) a so-called aromatase inhibitor, reduced the risk of developing
    breast cancer, making it a preventative treatment option for
    postmenopausal women at high risk for breast malignancies.

According to Vogelzang, the take-home message for patients is that,
“cancer therapy continues to get better and better each year. Side effects
are reducing. The old story of chemotherapy is going away — this is no
longer your grandfather’s Buick — these are pills that make cancer a
truly manageable disease, much like diabetes.”

Other topics in the report include: Ways to deal with troublesome,
ongoing shortages of certain chemotherapy drugs, and the impact of health
care reform might have in addressing disparities in cancer care.

In addition, the report looked at ways to improve clinical cancer
research in the United States.

The report was developed by an 18-member editorial board made up of
leading oncologists. Only studies that significantly changed the way a
cancer is understood or had a major impact on patient care were chosen for
the report, Vogelzang noted.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American
Cancer Society, agreed that “we are moving into a new era of [cancer] drug
development.”

He explained that a better understanding the genetics of a particular
cancer now makes it possible to develop medicines that target a key part
of the tumor cell, making therapies more specific and effective.

“For example, in melanoma we are still using the same drug today that I
used back in 1972,” Lichtenfeld said. However, the advent of new drugs is
starting to change that, he added.

“The extension of life may be modest, [but] we need to appreciate that
they are real,” Lichtenfeld said. “Ten years ago we started talking about
making cancer a ‘chronic disease’ and we are starting to see that
happen.”

More information

There’s much more on cancer at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Article source: http://news.yahoo.com/targeted-drugs-lung-ct-screening-top-cancer-advances-140208988.html

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