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Cancer Health Center

Gleevec Gets High Marks for Leukemia Treatment

Study Shows the Drug Is a Successful Therapy for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
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Checking for Adverse Events

The 832 patients in the study were followed for an average of about five years.

Twenty deaths occurred during follow-up, for a death rate of 4.8%. This was similar to the death rate that would be expected among people of the same age in the general population, Gambacorti-Passerini says.

Serious adverse events, including cardiovascular and digestive system problems, were reported in 139 patients, but only 27 cases were considered possibly related to Gleevec treatment.

Less serious, treatment-related adverse events were more common, occurring in more than half of patients. They included muscle cramps, weakness, diarrhea, skin fragility, and swelling.

The research was funded by Italy’s drug safety agency and it included patients treated in academic and research centers and community-based hospitals.

The study is published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Why Does Gleevec Work So Well?

While other targeted drug treatments are being used for other cancers, they have not proven to be game changers like Gleevec and two other targeted CML drugs: Tasigna (nilotinib) and Sprycel (dasatinib).

Johns Hopkins University associate professor of oncology B. Douglas Smith, MD, says this is not surprising.

“CML is a pretty simple cancer and we know a lot about it,” he tells WebMD.

Patients with CML have a specific genetic abnormality that causes the disease. Gleevec and the other targeted treatments work by blocking the cancer-promoting enzyme created by this abnormality.

“Most cancers have multiple genetic hits, so it is not surprising that a single drug targeting one thing would not be as effective,” he says.

In an editorial published with the study, Smith writes that confirming the long-term safety and effectiveness of targeted drug treatments for CML should spur research to find a cure for the disease.

Patients must stay on the targeted drugs for the rest of their lives and treatment with Gleevec can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 a year.

“We now know that patients do very well on these drugs, so we need to build on this success and look for ways to add to these therapies to achieve a cure,” he says.

Gina Russo, of the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, says she is optimistic that targeted treatments will prove useful for more and more cancers.

“This is a model for the treatment of other blood cancers and solid tumors,” she tells WebMD.

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