New Treatments for Tough Cancers Show Promise

ByABC News
March 24, 2008, 12:06 AM

Mar. 23 -- SATURDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- Advances in treating lung and head/neck cancers could have immediate implications for patients, new research suggests.

Three studies detailing the findings were presented at a press conference Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, in Chicago.

These types of cancer are notoriously difficult to treat, and have extremely low survival rates. Lung cancer is currently the number one cancer killer in the world. Head and neck cancers rank sixth, with 500,000 new cases and 300,000 deaths worldwide each year. Progress, particularly with lung cancer, comes in small increments.

"These are two very difficult-to-treat cancers," said Dr. Roy S. Herbst, moderator of the press conference and a professor of medicine and cancer biology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

One study found, for the first time, that giving Avastin (bevacizumab) to patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, along with the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and gemcitabine, slowed the growth of the cancer by up to 25 percent. The data confirms earlier results.

"This cancer is very hard to treat. There have been some advances, but we have reached a treatment plateau and we need more agents which may help us to offer better treatment to patients," said study author Dr. Christian Manegold, a professor of medicine at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. "We were able to confirm that Avastin adds efficacy to standard chemotherapy and provides hope for patients suffering from a deadly disease."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Avastin in October to be used in combination with chemotherapy drugs carboplatin and paclitaxel. The new study looked at Avastin with chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and gemcitabine. The study was funded by Hoffman-La Roche, parent company of Genentech, which makes Avastin.

Thirty-four percent of patients in the low-dose Avastin group and 30 percent of those in the high-dose Avastin group saw their tumors shrink, compared with only 20 percent in the chemotherapy-alone group. The duration of response was 6.1 months in both Avastin groups vs. 4.7 months in the control group.