Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Lung Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Erbitux Fights Advanced Lung Cancer

Study Shows Drug May Add New Option for Treatment of Lung Cancer Patients
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 1, 2008 (Chicago) -- Adding the drug Erbitux to standard chemotherapy extends the lives of advanced lung cancer patients by about five weeks, according to results of a large international trial.

In the study of 1,125 patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer, those given the combination treatment lived an average of 11.3 months vs. 10.1 months for those who only received chemotherapy.

Looked at another way, 47% of those given Erbitux plus chemotherapy were alive a year later, compared with 42% of those who only received chemotherapy.

The results set a new standard of care for the initial treatment of patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, says researcher Robert Pirker, MD, of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.

Pirker presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer, taking the lives of more than 160,000 Americans last year, according to the American Cancer Society. Non-small-cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for more than 80% of cases.

About four in 10 of cases of non-small-cell lung cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they have already spread to other parts of the body and are notoriously difficult to treat. Only about 15% of patients are alive five years after diagnosis.

Currently, the only targeted therapy that is approved as an initial therapy for these patients is Avastin. The study that led to that's drug's approval showed it extended their lives by about eight weeks.

But patients with certain tumor types, such as those with squamous cell cancer, were excluded from that trial, Pirker says. And as many as 30% of non-small-cell lung cancers fall into that category.

In contrast, Erbitux "was studied in people with all subtypes of cancer. In other words, we had a patient population that better reflects real life," he tells WebMD.

Erbitux is a monoclonal antibody that blocks the effects of a protein called epidermal growth factor that fuels tumor growth. It's already approved for treating head and neck as well as colorectal cancers.

Avastin works differently, preventing tumors from growing new blood vessels, thereby choking them to death. It is approved to treat metastatic breast cancer as well as late-stage colorectal cancer and late-stage lung cancer.

"Erbitux opens up a new choice for a sizable group of patients" for whom there are currently no real options, Pirker says.

The most common side effect associated with Erbitux was an acne-like rash. Moderate rash was observed in 10% of patients taking Erbitux vs. less than 1% of those on chemotherapy alone.

New Option for Lung Cancer Patients

Almost every doctor questioned by WebMD agreed the findings will change the way doctors treat patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancers.

Today on WebMD

lung cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
 
Using GPS to Detect Lung Cancer
VIDEO
mans hand putting out cigarette
Article
 
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
FEATURE
Lung Cancer Risks Myths and Facts
SLIDESHOW
 
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
Improving Lung Cancer Survival Targeted Therapy
VIDEO
 
Lung Cancer Surprising Differences Between Sexes
VIDEO
Pets Improve Your Health
SLIDESHOW
 
Vitamin D
SLIDESHOW
Lung Cancer Surgery Options
VIDEO
 

WebMD Special Sections