The pemetrexed group survived for a median of 13.4 months while those on the placebo survived 10.6 months, the research team reported.
The difference was more pronounced in those patients with the nonsquamous type of cancer: 15.5 months overall survival in those taking pemetrexed versus 10.3 months for those taking a placebo.
Maintenance therapy is a new concept in cancer care. In fact, its initial promise emerged about a year ago, when progression-free survival data for pemetrexed was first presented.
"That was promising but people were wondering if this just delayed the time until we had to use pemetrexed as a second-line treatment," said Dr. Karen Reckamp, assistant professor of medicine at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.
In general, cancer patients are treated with four to six cycles of "first line" therapy -- about five months -- and are then stopped and monitored. If the cancer returns, they receive "second line" therapy.
Side effects were worse in the pemetrexed group but overall they were not terrible, the researchers stated. "Patients actually tolerated the drug fairly well," Belani said.
Another study, also presented at the ASCO press briefing, looked at patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer taking the drug Zactima (vandetanib). Researchers found that adding the medication to chemotherapy (including docetaxel) improved progression-free survival.
Unlike other lung cancer drugs, Zactima packs a one-two punch, targeting two separate cellular receptors involved with tumors: epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
Following initial chemotherapy, almost 1,400 patients were randomly selected to receive doce
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