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Immune-Boosting Lung Cancer Therapy Shows Promise

It cut relapse after surgery to same extent as chemo but without side effects

FRIDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- An immune-boosting treatment for lung cancer patients reduces the risk of cancer relapse after surgery to the same extent as chemotherapy but without the risk of unpleasant side effects, says a Phase II study by Belgian researchers.

The study included 182 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common form of the disease. All the patients had surgery to remove their cancer and were then randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or MAGE-A3 ASCI (antigen-specific cancer immunotherapeutic) injections over 27 months -- five given at three-week intervals, followed by eight given once every three months.

MAGE-A3 is a tumor-specific antigen produced in 35 percent to 50 percent of non-small-cell lung cancer. It's not produced by normal cells.

"The aim is to help the body's immune system to recognize the MAGE-A3 antigen and therefore eliminate the cancer cells that express MAGE-A3. In other words, it is a kind of treatment method that makes the body's immune system specifically attack cancer cells," study author Professor Johan Vansteenkiste, of the University Hospital Gasthuisberg, said in a prepared statement.

After 44 months of follow-up, cancer had recurred in 69 of the 182 patients, including 57 deaths. Patients who received the MAGE-A3 injections were less likely to have any recurrence, went longer without recurrence, and were less likely to die.

The findings were to be presented April 25 at the European Lung Cancer Conference in Geneva.

"Surgical resection is the standard treatment for patients with early stage lung cancer, but after complete resection, about 50 percent will relapse and die from their cancer," Vansteenkiste said. "Postoperative chemotherapy is able to improve cure rates but is sometimes poorly tolerated by patients recovering from thoracic surgery. In addition, not all patients are fit to receive chemotherapy."

This study shows that MAGE-A3 ASCI provides benefits similar to chemotherapy with only minimal side effects, such as mild reactions at the injection site and fever within 24 hours of the injection.

"Therefore, it is suitable for long-term maintenance treatment and, for most patients, including older patients or patients in weak physical condition after surgery, allowing them to live a normal life whilst on cancer treatment," Vansteenkiste said.

A Phase III trial of MAGE-A3 ASCI is now under way.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about lung cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: European Society for Medical Oncology, news release, April 25, 2008

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