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Study Targets Brain Mets from Lung Cancer


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New research studies at Norwalk Hospital are targeting one of the most difficult types of cancer to treat: lung cancer that has spread to the brain.

Lung cancer remains one of the most common and lethal malignant cancers to affect adult men and women. Approximately one-third of newly diagnosed patients will have evidence of spread of the disease to the brain, called brain metastases.

Brain metastases are typically treated with surgery and/or radiation, though they are rarely cured by these methods. Chemotherapy drugs may shrink lung cancer that is growing in the body but they are ineffective against cancer growing in the brain. For these reasons, new approaches are needed to treat lung cancer related brain metastases.

Significant strides in the treatment of lung and other cancers have resulted from the introduction of “targeted therapies,” medicines that slow cancer growth by binding to one or a few specific molecules in cancer cells. Because they are more targeted than traditional chemotherapy drugs, they tend to cause fewer side effects and can often be combined with chemotherapy for a superior cancer-fighting effect.

As part of three new clinical trials at Norwalk Hospital, the targeted therapies Sutent (Pfizer), Avastin (Genentech) and Zactima (Astra Zeneca) are being offered to patients with lung cancer who also have brain metastases. These medicines all target the blood supply of cancer but do so in distinct ways.

“These are very important studies for lung cancer patients to be aware of. Aside from surgery and radiation, we have no accepted medicines to treat brain metastases,” said Dr. Richard Frank, director of cancer research at the Whittingham Cancer Center of Norwalk Hospital.

“The medicines under study interfere with the blood supply on which all cancers depend; they are called anti-angiogenesis therapies and have had a major impact on the treatment of a variety of cancers. We do not know how effective or safe they will be for lung cancer patients who have brain metastases, so they are only available as part of clinical trials such as these,” he said.

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