Doctors report advances with new drugs that control certain types of cancer, reduce the risk of recurrence, and make treatment easier to tolerate.
Softer medications would be a relief for patients like Jenn Carroll, a 57-year-old director of human resources from New Hartford, Connecticut, who received traditional intravenous chemotherapy after lung cancer surgery in 2018.
Carroll took the opportunity to help test a new medication taken as a daily pill, Tagrisso, from AztraZeneca. Instead of the imprecise strategy that kills chemo cells, Tagrisso attacks a specific genetic mutation. Its side effects are bearable enough to be ingested for several years to prevent relapse, according to doctors.
A major drawback is that new drugs are extremely expensive ”$ 150,000 or more a year. How much patients end up paying depends on insurance, income and other factors.
Following are highlights from that study and others from a conference of the American Society for Clinical Oncology that took place online this weekend due to the pandemic.
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Lung cancer kills more than 1.7 million people a year worldwide. Dr. Roy Herbst of the Yale Cancer Center led a Tagrisso study of 682 patients with the most common type of the disease. All had operable tumors with a gene mutation called EGFR, found in between 10% and 35% of cases, especially among Asians and non-smokers.
About half received standard chemo after surgery and then Tagrisso or placebo pills. Independent monitors stopped the study last month when the drug’s benefit was evident.
After two years on average, 89% of the patients who took the drug were alive without cancer recurrence compared to 53% who took the placebo.
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Men with advanced prostate cancer are often treated with drugs to suppress male hormones that may contribute to the cancer coming back.
The researchers tested 930 men for almost a year for Myovant Sciences relugolix “a different type of hormone blocker and the first to be a daily pill” instead of leuprorelin injections every three months.
Approximately 97% in the experimental drug kept hormones suppressed over that time compared to 89% with leuprorelin.
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Merck & Co.’s successful Keytruda, which helps the immune system find and fight cancer, has been shown to be better than standard chemo combinations as initial treatment for people with advanced colon cancer and tumors with genetic defects that result in large number of mutations, making them difficult to treat.
The study included 307 patients in France. Those who received Keytruda spent more than 16 months on average before their cancer worsened compared to 8 months for those receiving chemo. After a year, 55% of those taking Keytruda were alive without their cancer getting worse, compared to 37% on chemo. After two years it was 48% against almost 19%.
Marilynn Marchione is on Twitter as: @MMarchioneAP
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