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New drug available for lung cancer patients

Erlotinib, also known as Tarceva, will soon become available to Citrus County lung cancer patients on a clinical trial sponsored by the Florida Wellcare Alliance.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in North America. Seventy-five percent of lung cancer cases are classified as non-small cell lung cancer based on their histopathologic type. Also, 75 percent of all non-small cell lung cancer cases are advanced stage III or IV. Survival for patients with advanced-stage lung cancer is poor.

The primary goal is to palliate symptoms. Conventional chemotherapy offers palliative benefit and a modest potential for survival prolongation. Traditional conventional drugs include the taxane drugs Taxol and Taxotere. Also, the platinum drugs Carboplatin and Cisplatinum are commonly used.

Despite therapeutic advances with chemotherapy, patients inevitably become refractory to, or suffer dose-limiting toxicity from, chemotherapy. One option for patients who have failed conventional chemotherapy is Iressa, also known as gefitinib. This drug, available for approximately one year, pertains to a class of drugs referred to as EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Erlotinib, also known as Tarceva, also pertains to this category of drugs referred to as EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) inhibitor. Tarceva is designed to inhibit EGF (epidermal growth factor) dependent growth of cancer cells.

Preliminary results in phase three trials in non-small cell lung cancer have been very encouraging. The current trial, sponsored by the company Genentec, is being made available to Citrus County lung cancer patients through the Florida Wellcare Alliance.

Appropriate patients would be those who have relapsed through standard chemotherapy (for example, Taxol and Carboplatin.) A number of other criteria exist for consideration of eligibility.

Contact the Florida Wellcare Alliance 341-2100 for further information.

Craig Englund, M.D., practices at the Citrus Hematology and Oncology Center.

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