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Not sure if everyone saw this today in the news.....

Is Tarceva a cure for cancer?


So what does it do?

Tarceva helps some patients who have certain kinds of cancer stay alive longer -- anywhere from a few weeks to many months. Human tests show that it can halt or even reverse some tumor growth.

But patients are still sick, right?

Yes, but Tarceva also improves their quality of life. It can be used if radiation or chemotherapy doesn't work. Those treatments have severe side-effects such as nausea and hair loss. With Tarceva, the patient simply takes a pill once a day.

What are the side-effects?

Some patients get diarrhea or a rash; they're considered relatively minor.

What kind of cancers does it work on?

The most recent tests concerned certain kinds of late-stage lung cancer. There are also hopes that it might work on brain cancer. It's also being tested on pancreatic cancer.

Tarceva and similar compounds are "targeted therapies" that focus on the abnormal signals that drive cancer cells. These drugs try to keep cancer at bay or even reduce tumors by blocking the process by which cancer cells divide, grow and spread.

How effective is Tarceva?

That hasn't been disclosed yet. The actual details will be released at a medical conference in June. But keep in mind, the definition of "success" for a cancer drug can be quite modest. If it works on just a small percentage of patients or extends life for only a few weeks, that's considered a big breakthrough. In earlier trials, just over 10 percent of the patients were helped at all.

When will Tarceva be available?

It's not clear. The tests have been concluded, but the Food and Drug Administration still has to evaluate the results and decide whether to approve the drug. If the FDA approves the drug on schedule, it could be available in 2005.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc. | Article licensing and reprint options

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