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Lung Cancer Health Center

Pill Shrinks Some Lung Cancers

Crizotinib Shows Promise for Lung Cancer Patients With ALK Genetic Abnormality
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Only 28% Chance of Lung Cancer Progression continued...

Most were former light smokers or never-smokers, and all had the ALKgene fusion.

After an average of six months of treatment, there was only a 28% chance that the cancer got worse, and responses to crizotinib have lasted for up to 15 months, says one of the study's leaders, Yung-Jue Bang, MD, of the Seoul National University College of Medicine in South Korea.

About 50% of patients on crizotinib had mild diarrhea or nausea that generally occurred early on and resolved after a few weeks. Ten percent had elevated liver enzymes that sometimes required stopping treatment, usually temporarily.

Crizotinib for Lung Cancer: Hope Warranted

Cancer doctors don't usually get excited about a drug that's in such early phase I testing; they prefer to see long-term safety results and how well it works when pitted against existing treatments, or at least placebo.

But in this case, enthusiasm is warranted, Herbst tells WebMD.

Although some drugs fail to live up to their promise, crizotinib appears to shrink tumors and keep cancer at bay in a large portion of patients that carry the gene defect targeted by the drug, he says.

"It's hard to argue that a response rate this high in these selected patients is not due to a specific effect of this agent on the ALKpathway," Herbst says.

And because crizotinib is targeted at an abnormality on cancer cells, it doesn't cause the systemic side effects associated with chemotherapy, which kills cancer and healthy cells alike, says Alice Shaw, MD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital who worked on the study.

Herbst says that two other gene-targeted treatments, Tarceva and Iressa, help another 10% to 20% of lung cancer patients.

"We're chipping away at the pie," he says.

Still, more testing is needed to establish long-term safety and to see how the drug compares to existing treatments, how long any benefits last, and whether it extends lives, Herbst says.

Pfizer, which makes the drug and sponsored the work, is enrolling patients in a late-stage, phase III study, which will compare crizotinib to standard chemotherapy.

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