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New cancer drugs offer choices


April 2013

Several important new uses of chemotherapy drugs hold promise for controlling certain cancers. And new drugs or combinations of drugs, as well as new delivery techniques, are helping to improve the quality of life for people with cancer. "It used to be that doctors were thrilled to get two or three new drugs to fight cancer in any given year. Over the past one to two years, there have been four to five new drugs every quarter. Many of these drugs are targeted chemotherapy agents and many are also given orally," says Dr. Jean Peliska, medical oncologist with Aurora Advanced Healthcare.

Targeted chemotherapy drugs attack certain aspects of the way cancer cells grow, or attack a particular target on cancer cells. "This concept is not new, but in the last several years, there have been increasing numbers of these drugs. The cancer can be tested for specific markers that allow specific chemotherapy agents do the work against the cancer. The hope is then to kill off the cancer cells while causing as little damage as possible to the normal cells," Peliska explains. These treatments can be tailored to each patient when appropriate.

Also exciting is that new uses for older, approved drugs are being discovered, Peliska says. "For example, Hercepton has been used for years to treat breast cancer. It has now been found to be useful in some stomach cancers. Gleevec, a drug that revolutionized treatment for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, is now also used for some sarcomas and rare blood disorders," she explains.

While it is common to think of receiving chemotherapy intravenously, oral drugs are becoming increasingly available, making them more convenient and attractive to patients. "There are oral medications for some forms of leukemia, breast cancer, lung, colon, kidney and prostate cancer. They are easier to take, but donít necessarily have fewer side effects," Peliska explains.


This story ran in the April 2013 issue of: