08 June 2004

Optimism In The Cancer Wars

European Yew

At the ongoing 2004 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in New Orleans, Louisiana, comes great news about the fight against what used to be a frustrating battle against cancer.

One of the most difficult types of cancer is brain cancer. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and most malignant of the brain cancers. In the meeting, results of a multi-institutional clinical trial showed that treating patients with radiation and chemotherapy improves both progression-free survival and overall survival in GBM. This is remarkable because this is the first time that chemotherapy was shown to be effective in brain cancer treatment.

For breast cancer, a study showed that Evista, known generically as Raloxifene, lowered the risk of breast cancer by 72% among postmenopausal women with osteoporosis who took it for four years.

Two other new studies presented showed that for prostate cancers that are resistant to hormone therapy (hormone therapy is a primary treatment for prostate cancer), Docetaxel was shown to extend survival and aid in pain relief. Docetaxel, marketed as Taxotere by Aventis, comes from the plant called European Yew which is pictured above. It seems our insurmountable ailments can be relieved using indigenous plants found in our planet, after all. Well, this has been going on since the time of Fleming.

For seminoma, which is a type of slow-growing testicular cancer, results of a new European study show that one course of chemotherapy treatment with carboplatin (Paraplatin) is as effective as radiation therapy. It is also associated with a lower risk of a second cancer in the near term. In men who are at risk for developing cancer in the remaining testicle, this research suggests that the use of chemotherapy may allow doctors to preserve the remaining testicle.

Lastly, the June 3rd issue of the New England Journal of Medicine featured a positive report regarding the treatment for colorectal cancer. It featured the MOSAIC study (Multicenter International Study of Oxaliplatin/5-Fluorouracil/Leucovorin in the Adjuvant Treatment of Colon Cancer), and another study which showed a combined chemotherapeutic cocktail (adding Bevacizumab to irinotecan-fluorouracil-leucovorin, known as IFL) designed to improve survival in cases of metastatic colorectal cancer.

WIth these new pharmocologic advances, a glimmer of hope can finally be seen, and someday, we might be able to manage cancer treatment the same way we now handle high blood pressure or high blood sugar. We certainly can't boast (yet) of beating cancer, but at least we are now within (finally! whew!) striking distance of giving it a good fight.

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