Helping Clinicians Improve Cancer Care--June 2009

An exciting new trend in cancer care is personalizing therapy to find the most effective treatments for specific patients. It is not surprising, then, that this was the focus of the American Society of Clinical Oncology's (ASCO) annual meeting, which wrapped up earlier this week in Orlando, Florida, yielding significant findings likely to help clinicians in all settings improve their practice.

"The field of personalized medicine is rapidly expanding. The more we learn about the genetic mechanics of cancer growth, the more we can harness that knowledge to personalize therapies to each patient's disease," noted Sonali Smith, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and moderator of a special briefing on personalizing cancer treatment through vaccines and other targeted therapies

Among the findings announced at this briefing: adding a novel targeted cancer vaccine to standard therapy was found to double treatment response rates and increase progression-free survival in patients with metastatic melanoma. Researchers also found that trastuzumab, widely used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer, improves survival for patients with gastric tumors expressing high levels of the HER2 protein

ASCO announced an update of its practice guideline on pharmacologic interventions for women at increased risk for breast cancer, adding raloxifene as chemoprevention for these patients. The previous version only recommended tamoxifen for this purpose.

A common side effect of cancer medications is nausea, and another study reported at ASCO points to the benefits of ginger for patients hoping to avoid chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). The root had been studied previously for its digestive benefits, but for the first time, a University of Rochester researcher paired it with a 5-HT3 receptor antagonist antiemetic, and the combination was found to significantly reduce CINV. For more on this story, go to www.hcplive.com/hcplive/asco/giner_and_antiemetics.

Findings of another important study announced at this year's ASCO meeting show that use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline, more than double the risk of breast cancer recurrence in women treated with tamoxifen. More information on this study can be found at www.hcplive.com/hcplive/asco/antidepressants.