CHICAGO May 30 Doctors can scale back treatment
for certain cancer patients, based on evidence that some drugs
can be used less frequently, according to new information that
is clearing the way for physicians to limit the risks of care.
Several studies backing up this "less-is-more" strategy,
which can also lower the cost of care, were presented on Friday
at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago.
Patients with breast cancer that has spread to the bone, for
instance, are often treated with monthly intravenous infusions
of a class of drugs known as bisphosphonates, such as zoledronic
acid, that protect against fractures and other bone problems.
Zoledronic acid is sold by Novartis AG under the brand
Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found
that women with breast cancer and bone metastasis can, after the
first year of monthly bisphosphonate treatment, safely scale
back to receiving the drug every three months. The change could
lower the risk of kidney problems as well as a rare, but serious
side effect in which parts of the jawbones weaken and die.
"We found that less frequent treatment may reduce the risk
of serious side effects, with added benefits in reduced patient
inconvenience and cost," lead study author Dr. Gabriel
Hortobagyi said in a statement.
A separate study funded by the National Institutes of Health
found that certain patients with head and neck cancer linked to
the human papillomavirus can safely receive lower-dose radiation
therapy without compromising their chances of survival.
This approach would spare many patients from debilitating,
often lifelong side effects of radiation treatment, such as
trouble swallowing, loss of taste and thyroid problems - but
more long-term follow up of patients is needed, said lead study
author Dr. Anthony Cmelak, a professor of radiation oncology at
the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Another federally funded study showed that it is safe to
stop the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins in
cancer patients with a life expectancy of less than a year. It
estimated that the move would save around $603 million in the
United States. Commonly used statins include atorvastatin, sold
by Pfizer under the brand name Lipitor.
The study found that discontinuing statins, which are used
to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, did not shorten
survival, but did reduce incidence of cancer symptoms, including
pain, depression, nausea and tiredness.
"We now have evidence that discontinuing certain medications
is safe, specifically, in the case of the widely prescribed
statin drugs, and can improve quality of life for patients," Dr
Patricia Ganz, a Los Angeles hematologist and American Society
of Clinical Oncology expert, said in a statement.
(Reporting By Deena Beasley; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)