According to new research published in The Lancet Oncology, gefitinib, a drug already used to treat lung cancer, may be effective to treat esophageal cancer in a small subgroup of patients. In the Cancer Oesophagus Gefitinib study, researchers tested gefitinib in patients with esophageal cancer who had progressed after chemotherapy.
The study showed that gefitinib had minimal impact on most patients and only increased survival rates by a small amount; however, the drug did drastically improve the quality of life, survival duration, and symptom control in about 15% of patients. The main adverse effect was diarrhea.
Russell Petty, PhD, of the University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland and senior researcher of the study said that the patients who improved on gefitinib did so within a few weeks of initiating therapy and some patients had disease control for almost 2 years. Dr. Petty notes that not all patients with esophageal cancer should be offered gefitinib and that there is a need for a test to screen whether a patient would improve on gefitinib.
Gefitinib (Iressa), a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, was approved in 2003 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat advanced EGFR mutation-positive non-small cell lung cancer.
Findings of a trial of a drug aimed at treating advanced oesophageal – or gullet – cancer could lead to a new treatment approach for a sub-group of patients with this kind of cancer.
The University of Aberdeen was involved in a UK wide study to see if the drug gefitinib – already used in lung cancer – could help treat oesophageal cancer.
The Cancer Oesophagus Gefitinib trial was the first study conducted in oesophageal cancer patients whose disease had progressed after chemotherapy.