Targeted therapy commonly used in lung cancer improves survival of esophageal cancer patients according to clinical trial results recently presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in the UK.
The esophagus is a muscular tube that food and liquids pass through on their on their way to the stomach. Each year in the United States, more than 17,000 people are diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and more than 15,000 die of the disease.
Scientists recently observed that up to one in six patients with esophageal cancer also have epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Doctors looked for EGFR expression in tumor samples from 295 deceased esophageal cancer patients who had taken part in a clinical trial where they received Iressa® (gefitinib) or placebo.
The doctors reported that the Iressa® treated patients had improved survival by up to six months, and sometimes beyond. Of the 48 patients who had EGFR, 13% of those treated with Iressa® survived for at least a year, while none of the patients who received a placebo survived that long.
Because giving Iressa® to patients who didn’t have extra EGFR copies made no difference the doctors suggest that EGFR testing could identify the subgroup of esophageal patients who will benefit from Iressa® treatment.
The discovery that esophageal cancer cells express abnormal EGFR and that treatments targeting the abnormality improve survival in patients with advanced esophageal cancer is a major breakthrough. This is the first treatment for advanced esophageal cancer shown to improve survival in patients whose initial course of chemotherapy treatment has failed.
There are several EGFR drugs currently available for the treatment of lung cancer, and using these drugs alone, in combination, and in sequence has improved the survival of lung cancer patients over the past few years. All patients with esophageal cancer should make sure they are tested for EGFR, and if positive should discuss how these new results can improve their treatment options.
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