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For patients with lung cancer who have not responded to standard chemotherapy, the drug erlotinib (Tarceva) has been shown to prolong survival. Investigators reported their results in the New England Journal of Medicine. Erlotinib targets human epidermal growth factor receptors and blocks them from allowing cancer cells to grow. Researchers from the University of Toronto assessed survival outcomes of 731 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, who randomly received either erlotinib or placebo. All patients had previously undergone unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments. The response in the erlotinib group was significantly higher than that in the placebo group?9% compared with <1%. Also, patients in the erlotinib group lived significantly longer than those in the placebo group?6.7 months, compared with 4.7 months. Erlotinib produced side effects that warranted dose reductions, however, and 5% of patients stopped taking the drug completely. Rash and diarrhea were the most commonly reported side effects and the reasons for dose lowering.
Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, RI.