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Most Off-Label Cancer Drug Use for Palliative Care

International review finds it's an accepted treatment in adults as well as children

MONDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Between 1990 and 2002, off-label use of anticancer drugs in adults and children ranged between 6.7 percent and 33.2 percent, and most of that off-label use was for palliative care, say researchers who reviewed published studies from a number of countries.

In off-label use, a drug is used to treat conditions that aren't described on the official labeling created when a drug is approved by a regulatory agency such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Although off-label use of cancer drugs has been reported for most types of cancer, it's most common among patients with metastatic or advanced cancer who are receiving palliative care, noted study author Dr. Dominique Leveque, of the Hopital Hautepierre in Strasbourg, France.

While these patients aren't generally expected to experience clinical benefit, there are circumstances in which off-label anticancer drugs are accepted as the standard of care, such as the use of high-dose carboplatin in some childhood cancers.

But safety is a concern in off-label use, because there's likely little information about tolerance or side effects associated with this kind of use, Leveque said.

He concluded that more research into the extent of off-label use of anticancer drugs is needed and that accurate and unbiased data is urgently required to help doctors make treatment decisions.

The review was published in the November issue of The Lancet Oncology.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about off-label drug use.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Lancet Oncology, news release, Oct. 27, 2008

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