Doctors are reporting success with newer drugs that control certain types of cancer better, reduce the risk it will come back and make treatment simpler and easier to bear.
Gentler drugs would be a relief to patients like Jenn Carroll, a 57-year-old human resources director from New Hartford, Connecticut, who had traditional IV chemotherapy after lung cancer surgery in 2018.
“It was very strong. I call it the ‘blammo’ method,” she said.
Carroll jumped at the chance to help test a newer drug taken as a daily pill, AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso. Rather than chemo’s imprecise cell-killing approach, Tagrisso targets a specific gene mutation. Its side effects are manageable enough that it can be used for several years to help prevent recurrence, doctors said.
A big drawback: It and other newer drugs are extremely expensive — $150,000 or more a year. How much patients end up paying depends on insurance, income and other factors.
Here are highlights of that study and others from an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference being held online this weekend because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lung cancer kills more than 1.7 million people globally each year. Dr. Roy Herbst of the Yale Cancer Center led a study of Tagrisso in 682 patients with the most common form of the disease. All had operable tumors with a mutation in a gene called EGFR that’s found in 10% to 35% of cases, especially among Asians and non-smokers.
About half had standard chemo after surgery and then took Tagrisso or placebo pills. Independent monitors stopped the study last month when the drug’s benefit seemed clear.
After two years on average, 89% of patients on the drug were alive without a cancer recurrence versus 53% on placebo. Severe side effects were a little more common on Tagrisso — mostly diarrhea, fatigue and inflamed skin around nails or in the mouth…