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New Cancer Therapies Provide Better, Safer Alternatives


The American Medical Association says treatment for cancer patients is making large strides as technology improves, giving doctors a better understanding of the disease. The group organized a briefing in New York Thursday, to share some of these new treatments.

The American Medical Association says new therapies can prolong life and prevent the serious side effects of treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.

Dr. Andrew Zelentz, head of the lymphoma unit at Sloan-Kettering, one of the top hospitals specializing in cancer treatments, says targeting the cells that cause tumors to grow may allow doctors to stop a cancer from growing and spreading. "So what we hope to see in the future is individualized tumor analysis that can predict response, and that we can select therapy based on an individual patient's molecular profile," he said.

Dr. Bruce Johnson, an oncologist at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has a similar goal in treating patients with lung cancer. He says new drugs taken once a day in pill format, can shrink small cell lung cancer tumors and put some patients in remission for anywhere between one to two years. "Because the side effects of this are dramatically less than with chemotherapy, we believe it will be an advance in treatment even if it doesn't make people live longer. But we believe, in this particular group, we believe it looks like the response rate is much higher, the symptomatic response is much greater, and it looks like the patients live longer than when they're given chemotherapy," he said.

Dr. Jessica Kandel, professor of surgery at Colombia University, believes blocking the process by which cancer can grow in the body, known as angiogenesis, is valid strategy to treat cancer and associated tumors. "We think that blocking angiogenesis holds promise for patients with advanced cancers. Uncovering the molecules that allow tumors to become resistant to anti-angiogenesis may increase the effectiveness of this new class of drugs," he said.

The National Cancer Institute says about 3,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer while also pregnant. But Dr. Richard Theriault, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, says the disease can be treated safely and successfully with a positive outcome for both the patient and the baby.

He says chemotherapy can be used safely to shrink the tumor, but should be avoided during the first trimester of the pregnancy, when the fetus is at the highest risk of malformation. "With surgery, it's easy -- low morbidity, low mortality for the mother and the fetus. The further away you are from the uterus for the surgical procedure, the safer it is. Radiation therapy, unlike surgery, is not recommended. The greater the duration of pregnancy, the greater the risk of radiation exposure for the baby," he said.

These new therapies come at a critical time when the World Health Organization says that more than seven million people died of cancer in 2005. The WHO warns that millions more will die in the next decade unless action is taken.

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