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The study: Researchers looked at the effect of maintenance therapy with pemetrexed (Alimta) given 3 to 6 weeks after completing a first treatment with chemotherapy for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Maintenance therapy is given in an effort to prevent the cancer from growing or spreading.
In this study, all of the patients were first treated with a platinum drug, such as cisplatin (Platinol) or carboplatin (Paraplatin). Then, 441 patients were given maintenance therapy with pemetrexed, and 222 patients were given best supportive care with close follow-up (the current standard treatment, which is no maintenance therapy). Pemetrexed is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating advanced NSCLC that has already grown or spread despite previous chemotherapy.
The results: Maintenance therapy with pemetrexed delayed by 50% the time it took for NSCLC to grow or spread. The tumors of patients who received pemetrexed did not grow or spread for slightly more than 4 months, compared with just less than 3 months for those who received best supportive care. Overall survival was 13 months for those who received pemetrexed and about 10 months for those who received best supportive care. The most common side effect of pemetrexed was anemia (low red blood cell count), which occurred in approximately 5% of patients who received pemetrexed, compared with 1% of those who received best supportive care.
What this means for patients
“This is the first study to show that patients with lung cancer can benefit from maintenance therapy. This approach significantly increases the amount of time that patients have before their cancer grows or spreads, without additional side effects,” said lead author Tudor Eliade Ciuleanu, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Iuliu Hatieganu in Romania. “We recommend giving pemetrexed after a patient completes initial treatment with chemotherapy, but before the cancer grows or spreads. This approach increases the chance of killing stray cancer cells before they contribute to tumor growth.”
What to ask your doctor
- What type of lung cancer do I have?
- What is my current treatment plan?
- Do you recommend maintenance chemotherapy?
- What clinical trials are open to me?
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