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Tarceva May Improve Survival From Lung Cancer

Study Shows Drug Has Benefits as Initial Treatment of Some Advanced Lung Cancers
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 11, 2010 - Patients whose advanced lung cancers bear the EGFR mutation survive two to three times longer if given initial treatment with Tarceva, a Chinese study suggests.

A Japanese study reported earlier this year suggests that a similar drug, Iressa, may also be most effective if given prior to standard chemotherapy.

Currently, patients with advanced lung cancer have a dim prognosis. Those who are relatively healthy are given a double chemotherapy that extends survival, but only for a few months. Caicun Zhou, MD, PhD, of Shanghai Pulmonary Hospital at Tongji University in China, compared first-line treatment with Tarceva to a powerful double chemotherapy regimen in 165 patients with advanced lung cancer.

Median progression-free survival -- that is, time until the cancer got worse -- was only 4.6 months for standard chemotherapy but was 13.1 months for patients taking Tarceva.

Moreover, patients taking Tarceva suffered far fewer side effects of therapy than those on standard chemo.

Zhou reported the study findings at this week's meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Milan, Italy.

Not all lung cancers carry the EGFR mutation. But those that do are sensitive to two drugs that target the EGFR enzyme: Genentech's Tarceva, and AstraZeneca's Iressa. 

Early clinical trials tested the drugs as second-line therapy. But the Zhou study, and an earlier Japanese study by Makoto Maemondo, MD, PhD, and colleagues, suggest that patients with EGFR lung cancers do best if given the drug initially.

A raft of clinical trials are under way exploring how to capitalize on these findings. Most of them are using Tarceva or Iressa in combination with different agents.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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