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Targeted Drugs, Lung CT Screening Top Cancer Advances in 2011
Date:12/6/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Dec. 6 (HealthDay News) -- As the war against cancer continues, a group representing U.S. oncologists has picked its "Top Five" list of advances in cancer care for 2011.

Leading the list are approvals for a bevy of new, targeted drugs for tough-to-treat malignancies, plus promising results suggesting CT chest scans may be an early-detection screen for lung cancer.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) this week issued its annual report on progress against cancer. The report was published online Dec. 5 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"The big news has been targeted drug therapy," noted Dr. Nicholas Vogelzang, head of the section of genitourinary cancer at the Nevada Cancer Institute in Las Vegas and co-executive editor of the report.

"We now have drugs that are very selective for some solid tumors. We now have [new] drugs affecting melanoma and lung cancer, which is pretty sweet," he said. "We don't know how long the responses to these drugs last -- they appear to be pretty short -- but some of them are truly dramatic."

CT-based lung cancer screening was the other big news in the cancer field this past year, Vogelzang noted. "People who smoke have a huge increase in lung cancer -- 40 times that of the general population. If you stop the risk drops, but it never goes back to zero."

However, a widely reported study published earlier this year by the U.S. National Cancer Institute found that screening smokers and former smokers with a CT chest scan was "dramatically better than the chest X-ray," Vogelzang said.

According to experts at ASCO, this year's top five advances include:

  • A trial of the drug vemurafenib (Zelboraf), which targets a key gene mutation in melanoma. The study found improved survival in patients with advanced melanoma compared with standard chemotherapy.
  • A screening trial of more than 50
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