Cancer specialists, gathered for an annual meeting, are reporting progress in the fight against lung cancer, the most common and deadliest form of cancer, but little progress in treating colorectal cancer.
Doctors and researchers at the 45th gathering of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the world's main cancer conference, learned of two studies showing progress in the battle against lung cancer.
The first study showed how the combination of two anti-cancer treatments following standard chemotherapy can slow the advance of lung cancer.
Patients treated with a combination of Tarceva, sold by the Swiss drugmaker Roche, and Avastin, a drug by Roche's Genentech unit, saw their cancer growth slow more than a control group treated with Avastin.
More than 750 patients were randomized to receive Avastin and a placebo, or Avastin and Tarceva. Those in the Tarceva group survived an average of 4.8 months before the cancer started growing again, compared to 3.7 months for the control group, said Vincent Miller, the study's main author.
The numbers translated to a 29 percent reduced risk of disease progression for patients who took a combination of Tarceva and Avastin.
"This is the first study to show that adding erlotinib (Tarceva) to maintenance therapy with bevacizumab (Avastin) delays disease progression in patients who have already received bevacizumab as part of their initial chemotherapy," said Miller.
A second study with 663 patients with advance lung cancer were given the drug Alimta, from US pharmaceutical Eli Lilly, which blocks cell growth.
Preliminary results showed that patients who took the drug lived 26 percent longer compared to a control group that took a placebo: 13.4 months against 10.6 months.
As in the first study, all the patients had already received four standard chemotherapy sessions.
"This study will change the overall standard of care," said Chandra Belani, the deputy director of the Penn State Cancer Institute, as she presented the research.
"Maintenance therapy with Alimta (permetrexed) offers a new paradigm for patients who have advanced lung cancer, because it has a low toxicity and can be given on an ongoing basis over a prolonged period of time to extend patients' lives," she said.
However there were few advances to report in the fight against colorectal cancer, the fourth most common in the United States and the second deadliest type of cancer.
Research on 2,710 patients with Phase Three colorectal cancer taking the drug Avastine along with standard chemotherapy treatment showed no difference in the survival rate or the recurrence of the tumor after three and a half years when compared to those not taking the drug.
Another study conducted in Italy among 747 patients with advanced colorectal cancer showed that the drug Eloxatine from the French firm Sanofi did not reduce the size of the tumor when combined with standard treatment used ahead of cancer surgery.