In parallel with recent medical treatment, therapy is also making strides in cancer care, reducing the secondary effects of drug regimens or limiting their intensity and toxicity.
"One of the underappreciated advances in cancer care over the past twenty years has been the improvement in patient quality of life," said Jennifer Obel, attending physician at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
"We are far better at helping patients cope with pain, nausea and other common side effects of cancer and its treatment," she told reporters at the 45th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Orlando, Florida.
A clinical trial unveiled Monday showed that a cream taken along with an antibiotic drug can reduce by half the severe skin toxicity, or rash, induced by the anti-cancer drug Vectibix, which is produced by the US drug maker Amgen Inc, and Merck laboratory's Erbitux.
Both drugs inhibit the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which plays a role in cancer cell growth, after standard chemotherapy has failed to produce results.
Vectibix and Erbitux are prescribed to treat colorectal cancer that has mestastasized.
The skin toxicity of those drugs "can be devastating for patients. It prevents many patients from agreeing to take these drugs and either delays or interrupts treatment for many others, reducing effectiveness of therapy," said Edith Mitchell of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
She suggested the new regimen, which consists of moisturizers, sunscreen, topical steroid cream and the antibiotic drug doxycycline twice a day, "is likely to become a new standard of care for patients receiving these drugs."
The preventative treatment, she added, also helps alleviate secondary effects, such as nausea, anemia and fatigue.
In another major development Monday, Merck and the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, among the world's biggest drugmakers, said they would jointly develop a new anti-cancer regimen using two experimental agent, part of growing trend of combination cancer drugs.
Preclinical evidence, the companies said, shows that combining the compounds, MK-2206 from Merck and AZD6244 from AstraZeneca, could enhance their anti-cancer properties.
The two groups will collaborate to evaluate the joint administration of the drugs in a clinical trial and share all developmental costs.
A separate study showed that shorter and more targeted radiological treatment for early breast cancer could be just as effective as more intense treatments while also yielding less secondary effects.
"This study suggests that partial breast irradiation may be safe and feasible for women with early-stage breast cancer because it doesn't jeopardize patient survival or increase the risk of metastasis," said Antonis Valachis of the Panhellenic Association for Continual Research in Greece.
He stressed that more research was necessary, beyond his study, which involved three clinical trials on 1,140 women.
Early detection of a relapse in ovarian cancer with a commonly used blood test for women who have already completed treatment may not help them live longer, according to a separate study released Sunday.
Women in remission from ovarian cancer often take a blood test, every three months or more, that measures levels of the CA125 protein in hopes of detecting recurrence of the cancer early.
"Since there is no benefit from early chemotherapy, patients may choose to avoid the inconvenience and anxiety associated with frequent retesting for CA125 levels as well as unnecessary early initiation of treatment for relapse," said Gordon Rustin of the Mount Vernon Cancer Center in the British country of Hertfordshire.