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Building on basics

Breathing easier

Gandara, who chairs the Lung Committee of the Southwest Oncology Group, is the principal investigator for one hopeful study. A drug called docetaxel (brand name Taxotere) was given to lung cancer patients with locally advanced (stage IIIB) disease after concurrent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The 83 patients with locally advanced lung cancer who participated in this trial doubled their expected survival time. Two-year survival was 51 percent, with a median survival of 26 months, compared to 34 percent and 15 months in patients in a related study who received chemotherapy and radiation but not docetaxel.

Docetaxel is part of a family of drugs known as taxanes, which are derived from the European yew tree. Docetaxel works by stabilizing the tubular struts of cancer cells, keeping them from dividing and proliferating.

"These results are unprecedented. Nothing in the literature parallels this kind of survival in this group of patients," said Gandara, who was selected to present his findings at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting last spring. "We picked the very worst patients with stage III disease, yet they did better than less-sick patients using this regimen."

"Cancer cells are notorious for developing defenses against chemotherapy drugs," added Primo Lara, an assistant professor of medicine who helped in Gandara's Phase II study. "By replacing some of the older chemotherapy drugs with docetaxel we were able to get results that were fantastic. This type of drug sequencing is clearly an advance for patients."


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