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Chemotherapy drugs help patients with non-small lung cancer

Saturday May 30,2009 (foodconsumer.org) -- Adding Tarceva to lung cancer treatment based on Avastin helped delay the spreading of the disease and continuing use of treatment with Alimta helped prolong survival of patients with advanced lung cancer, according to two studies to be presented this weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting.

Alimta, sold by Eli Lilly, and Tarceva, sold by Roche's Genentech and OSI Pharmaceuticals, were studied as continuing treatments after initial chemotherapy but before the spreading of the tumor.

In the studies, Tarceva (designed to prevent tumor growth) was given to some patients who had been treated with Avastin, which is intended to prevent cancer growth by blocking fluid to blood vessels. Patients then completed four cycles of chemotherapy.

The study of more than 700 patients showed that patients who received the combination of Avastin and Tarceva delayed the advancement of cancer by 4.8 months. Those who received only Avastin and placebo saw delays of only 3.7 months.

The downside of the chemotherapy treatment with both Avastin and Tarceva is that more patients suffered side effects like rash, diarrhea, high blood pressure and fatigue. Eight deaths among the study group were also associated with adverse events. Four deaths were reported in the group receiving the treatment with Avastin alone.

Avastin is approved to be used with two other chemotherapy drugs to treat lung cancer while Tarceva is intended only in patients who did not respond to at least one type of chemotherapy treatment.

The study of Alimta, considered a less toxic type of chemotherapy, found patients who completed four cycles of the drug and continued its use ended up living longer, 13.4 months, than those who did not continue treatment with Alimta, 10.6 months.

Alimta is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a first-line treatment to help patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

It is estimated that 215,000 men and women in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008 and 161,840 are expected to die of the disease. The disease is the leading cause of cancer-triggered death.

(By David Liu and edited by Sheiah Downey)