Three 'Targeted' Cancer Drugs Raise Risk of Fatal Side Effects

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BOSTON—Treatment with three relatively new "targeted" cancer drugs has been linked to a slightly elevated chance of fatal side effects, according to a new analysis led by scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They added that the risk remains low, but should be taken into account by physicians and patients.

The incidence of fatal complications was 1.5 percent in patients who received any of the three drugs, which block the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) tyrosine kinase receptors in cancer cells, according to the study published February 6 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. This is compared to a 0.7 percent incidence in patients given standard treatments or placebos.

The study looked at three drugs: sorafenib (Nexavar), sunitinib (Sutent), and pazopanib (Votrient). Sorafenib is approved to treat kidney and liver cancer, sunitinib to treat kidney cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), and pazopanib to treat kidney cancer.

The authors of the study, led by Dana-Farber's Toni Choueiri, MD, suggest that physicians give full consideration of the potential risk before using the targeted drugs with patients at slightly high risk for bleeding or heart attacks—the most common fatal adverse events seen in clinical trials. They also recommended that physicians and patients be aware of the risks and to consider if those patients need to be closely monitored.

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