Keeping cancer at bay longer after surgery

Published On: Feb 21 2012 11:55:06 AM EST   Updated On: Mar 05 2012 12:26:42 PM EST

(NewsUSA) - It seems that every day there's new information about advances in the fight against cancer. In just the past decade, many medicines have changed the way some cancers are treated, adding months, and sometimes years, to patient's lives.

Now, doctors are looking at how some of these available medicines can keep cancer from returning after surgery by using them earlier -- before the cancer has returned or spread to other organs.

For example, for patients with a rare form of stomach cancer known as GIST, there is good news. The U.S. FDA recently approved Gleevec (imatinib mesylate) tablets as the first drug to reduce the risk of these tumors coming back after surgery. Gleevec is now the only post-surgery treatment approved to slow the return of this life-threatening cancer.

Chemotherapy does not work for GIST patients, and the first step in GIST treatment is often surgery. Unfortunately these tumors can grow back after they have been removed. They can return in as many as 50 percent of patients.

"This approval is an important step forward in the treatment of this deadly cancer," said Peter Pisters, MD, professor of Surgery, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "We are encouraged by the benefits we have seen in patients who were treated with Gleevec immediately following surgery. In fact, almost all of the patients studied did not experience a return of tumors after a year of treatment."

Patients should discuss their treatment options with their healthcare team, which may include participating in clinical trials of available medications or new compounds in development.

Roslyn Fuller is one of several GIST patients who took part in a clinical trial with Gleevec. "After surgery, my doctor told me there was a high likelihood that my GIST would come back. I immediately searched for a possible solution and found the Gleevec clinical trial, which aimed to help patients like me," said Roslyn. "This FDA approval is good news for me and other GIST patients who will now have the option to start treatment with Gleevec earlier to help prevent recurrence."

Doctors continue to research ways to help avoid the return of cancer, including GIST, after surgery, and this recent FDA approval is a milestone event. This is an exciting time in cancer research, and approvals such as this bring us one step closer to winning the fight against cancer!