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Study Adds to Evidence That Rituximab Slows Lymphoma Symptoms
Date:12/21/2010

TUESDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- New research provides more evidence that treating certain lymphoma patients with an expensive drug over the long term helps them go longer without symptoms. But the drug, called rituximab (Rituxan), does not seem to significantly increase life span, raising questions about whether it's worth taking.

People with lymphoma who are considering maintenance treatment "really need a discussion with [their] oncologist," said Dr. Steven T. Rosen, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The study involved people with follicular lymphoma, one of the milder forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a term that refers to cancers of the immune system. Though it can be fatal, most people live for at least 10 years after diagnosis.

There has been debate over whether people with the disease should take Rituxan as maintenance therapy after their initial chemotherapy. In the study, which was funded in part by F. Hoffmann-La Roche, a pharmaceutical company that sells Rituxan, roughly half of the 1,019 participants took Rituxan, and the others did not. All previously had taken the drug right after receiving chemotherapy.

In the next three years, the study found, people taking the drug took longer, on average, to develop symptoms. Three-quarters of them made it to the three-year mark without progression of their illness, compared with about 58 percent of those who didn't take the drug. But the death rate over three years remained about the same, according to the report, published online Dec. 21 in The Lancet.

The drug "should now be considered as first-line treatment for these patients," wrote Dr. Gilles Salles of Hospices Civils de Lyon & Universite Claude Bernard in Lyon, France, and his research colleagues.

But Rosen said there's still a divide over use of the drug as maintenance therapy. "Physicians are falling into two gr
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