Popular Arthritis Drug KO's Lung Cancer
May 21, 2002 -- The powerful arthritis drug Celebrex, which is already approved as a treatment to prevent a type of colon cancer, is showing some signs of efficacy against cancer's No. 1 killer: lung cancer.
In a small study of 16 patients with early cancer than had not spread beyond the lungs, patients who took Celebrex along with chemotherapy benefited from the treatment, and the cancer virtually disappeared in five patients, says Nasser K. Altorki, MD, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Cornell University's Weill Medical College. In eight other patients, tumors shrank, and four more patients had stable disease.
The expected complete clinical response rate -- meaning that tumors are no longer visible by X-ray -- with the chemotherapy alone "is just 1%, so these results were very encouraging."
Altorki presented his findings during the closing day of the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 170,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and 155,000 Americans will die of lung cancer this year. It remains the No. 1 cancer killer in the United States. Patients in this study have the most aggressive type of lung cancer, which is called non-small cell lung cancer.
The patients took 400 mg of Celebrex twice a day, which is twice the recommended dose of the drug, along with standard chemotherapy drugs for six weeks before undergoing surgery to remove part of their lungs. When pathologists examined tissue removed from the lungs, they discovered that about a third of patients had microscopic evidence of tumor death.
After surgery, patients who had tumors about the length of the thumb "only showed microscopic evidence of disease. That is something you rarely see in standard chemotherapy," says Altorki.
But he cautions against too much enthusiasm because as good as these results are, they are very preliminary. He said a larger study that compared chemotherapy plus Celebrex to chemotherapy with a dummy pill is needed to confirm the results.
Michael Gordon, MD, associate dean for research at the University of Arizona in Phoenix, agrees with the need for caution. He tells WebMD that right now many patients with early stage lung cancer don't undergo chemotherapy before surgery to remove the tumor. Adding that treatment along with Celebrex would expose the patients to "several weeks of toxic treatment," which many cancer specialists may consider unnecessary.