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Extra Drug Improves Rectal Cancer Treatment
Date:4/15/2008

And contraceptive drug helps kill cervical cancer cells missed by chemotherapy

TUESDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Adding the cancer drug Avastin to radiation and chemotherapy improves results for patients with rectal cancer.

And adding the contraceptive drug mifepristone (RU-486, the so-called abortion pill) to chemotherapy kills ovarian cancer cells that escaped cisplatin treatment.

Those are the conclusions of two reports on new trends in cancer drugs presented Tuesday at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, in San Diego.

In the first study, researchers found that adding Avastin to chemotherapy and radiation improved three-year, disease-free survival by 91 percent among patients with rectal cancer.

"Avastin is an antibody against a potent angiogenic molecule known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and has been approved to treat several types of cancers," Rakesh K. Jain, director of the Edwin L. Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said during a teleconference. In essence, VEGF promotes the growth of blood vessels in cancer tumors, he said.

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, there are more than 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer diagnosed each year in the United States.

The goal of Jain's team's research was to find ways to make standard chemotherapy more effective. For the study, 25 patients with rectal cancer were treated with Avastin, along with chemotherapy and external beam radiation and surgery. The addition of Avastin increased the density of blood vessels in the tumor and repaired tumor vessels damaged by chemotherapy or radiation, he said.

"Avastin leads to vessel normalization, it repairs vessels," Jain said. "By repairing the vessels, it makes the tumor better-nourished so the drugs can get there and work better," he said. "That's a very counterintuitive finding."

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