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Popular colorectal cancer drug may cause permanent nerve damage
Date:9/28/2011

Oxaliplatin, a platinum-based anticancer drug that's made enormous headway in recent years against colorectal cancer, appears to cause nerve damage that may be permanent and worsens even months after treatment ends. The chemotherapy side effect, described by Johns Hopkins researchers in the September issue of Neurology, was discovered in what is believed to be the first effort to track oxaliplatin-based nerve damage through relatively cheap and easy punch skin biopsies.

The Johns Hopkins investigators emphasize that the drug therapy clearly improves length of survival in advanced cancer by months to years, and that the goal of their new study is to find ways of preventing or slowing the damage through nerve-protective therapies identfied through simple skin testing.

Many patients who take oxaliplatin report bothersome neurological side effects, including pain in the hands and feet and a numbness or tingling in the throat that affects swallowing, according to study leader Michael Polydefkis, M.D., M.H.S., associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the EMG Laboratory and Cutaneous Nerve Laboratory at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Though these symptoms develop over time in the majority of patients, some report neuropathies as early as when the drug is first infused.

To get a better sense of how oxaliplatin affects nerve cells, Polydefkis and his colleagues recruited eight cancer patients about to begin oxaliplatin treatment at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. All had been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer.

Before their first oxaliplatin infusion, each patient underwent a comprehensive neurological examination, including nerve conduction testing, a clinical exam to look for signs of nerve damage, and a punch biopsy that removed tiny (3-mm diameter) portions of skin near their knees and ankles. Once oxaliplatin treatment began, consisting of infusions over two da
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Contact: Christen Brownlee
cbrownlee@jhmi.edu
410-955-7832
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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