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    Longer Survival With Colorectal Cancer Drugs

    Some Patients Living Longer, but Jury Is Still Out on Effectiveness

    Starving Tumors continued...

    He also noted that the survival advantage comes at a steep price: The cost for 10 months of therapy can top $50,000.

    But study co-author Fairooz Kabbinavar, MD, of the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center, tells WebMD that many of his patients with advanced cancer have lived much longer than a few extra months after beginning treatment with Avastin. He says one of his patients is still alive after six years.

    "There is definitely promise for long-term survival with this drug," he says. "In cancer therapy improving survival time without increasing toxicity is the Holy Grail, and this drug seems to have achieved both."

    American Cancer Society colorectal cancer spokesman Len Lichenfeld, MD, says studies are needed to determine if Avastin can benefit patients with less advanced disease.

    Improving Cure Rates

    The second study reported in NEJM included more than 2,200 patients with surgically treated colon cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy. The patients were randomly assigned to receive six months of standard chemotherapy or standard chemotherapy along with the drug Eloxatin.

    Three years later, 78% of the patients in the Eloxatin group were alive and free of cancer, compared with 73% of patients treated with standard chemotherapy. The difference was greatest among patients with the most advanced diseases. Cancer-free survival with Eloxatin was 72% among patients whose cancer had spread to their lymph nodes, compared with 65% among patients with cancer in their lymph nodes who were treated with standard chemotherapy.

    The lymph nodes are part of the immune system which helps fight infection. Whether the lymph nodes contain cancer cells is an important factor when predicting survival.

    He says the available data show that Eloxatin should be added to standard chemotherapy after treatment with surgery in patients who have cancer in multiple lymph nodes and should not be used in patients with no lymph node involvement.

    "For patients with one or two lymph nodes involved I think the choice is less clear," he says.

    While new therapies offer new hope for curing or extending the lives of colorectal cancer patients, Lichtenfeld says the best hope for saving the most lives still lies in convincing more people to be screened.

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