CHICAGO -- A chemotherapy drug that is supposed to help save cancer patients' lives, instead resulted in life-threatening and sometimes fatal allergic reactions.
A new study from the Research on Adverse Drug Events and Reports (RADAR) pharmacovigilance program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine identified 287 unique cases of hypersensitivity reactions submitted to the FDA's Adverse Event Report System between 1997 and 2007 with 109 (38 percent) deaths in patients who received Cremophor-based paclitaxel, a solvent-administered taxane chemotherapy.
Adverse event reports generally only represent from 1 to 10 percent of actual incidence, so the number of hypersensitivity reactions and deaths is likely significantly higher. The severe allergic reactions are believed to be caused by Cremophor, the chemical solvent - a derivative of castor oil -- that is used to dissolve some insoluble drugs before they can be injected into the blood stream.
Two patients who died from an allergic reaction had early-stage breast cancer, which had been surgically removed, and were being treated with Cremophor-containing paclitaxel to prevent the cancer from coming back. Both of these patients had received medications before the chemotherapy to reduce the risk of hypersensitivity reactions.
The study was led by Charles Bennett, M.D., RADAR program coordinator and a professor of hematology/oncology at Northwestern's Feinberg School, and Dennis Raisch, a professor of pharmacy at the University of New Mexico.
"The deaths of women with early-stage breast cancer are particularly disturbing because without the adverse reaction, they could have likely had 40 years of life ahead of them," Bennett said.
RADAR investigators also found that 22 percent of all fatalities occurred in patients despite patients having received premedication to prevent hypersensitivity reactions, while another 15 percent of such patients expe
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