Experts find miracle pill for liver cancer

NEW DELHI: American scientists may have found the world’s first drug that prolongs survival of liver cancer patients in the final stage of the deadly disease.

Sorafenib, a pill that zeroes in on malignant cancer cells and cuts off the blood supply feeding the tumour, was found to increase chances of survival by over 44% or about three months. Presently, these patients have no available treatment option. Experts also say that in such cases, patients don’t live for more that six months.

A large scale multinational trial, conducted by researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Hospital Clinic of Barcelona,

Spain, found the drug to work on tumours within the liver and those that have spread elsewhere.

Presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago on Monday, the study also found that tumours after being attacked by the drug didn’t grow.

Lead author of the study Dr Josep Llovet said such a survival advantage has never happened with liver cancer and is a major breakthrough in the disease’s management.

According to Dr Subhash Gupta, head of department, liver surgery, Apollo Hospital, Sorafenib holds great promise for patients on whom aggressive options like a mix of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy fail.

Liver cancer, a hard to treat disease, is diagnosed in more than half a million people globally each year. It is primarily caused by exposure to the Hepatitis B and C viruses and is the third biggest cause of cancer deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. It kills 622,000 people globally each year. In India, about 100,000 people suffer from the disease annually. Of these, just about 100-200 undergo a liver transplant. Most patients can’t afford a transplant as it costs nearly Rs 15 lakh.

Dr Gupta said: “Once detected early, liver cancer can be addressed by either a transplant or other techniques. However, most patients in India are detected in the very late stage for which there are no effective treatments. At an average, I see three to four patients in such a category every week. Sorafenib will come as a boon for these patients.”

In the study which started in March 2005, 602 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer, were divided into two groups — one that received two doses of Sorafenib daily and another that received dummy pills. On an average, Sorafenib patients survived 10.7 months versus almost 8 months for those on dummy pills.

The study was halted early in February 2007 because of the good results and patients on dummy pills were switched to Sorafenib.

Sorafenib attacks cancer with a targeted double-barreled approach. It zeros in on malignant cells themselves and cuts off the blood supply feeding the tumour. It is believed to work on tumours within the liver and those that have spread elsewhere. In the study, tumours didn’t shrink or disappear but in many cases they also didn’t grow.

“You are not curing the disease but you are delaying the progression of the disease significantly and strikingly,” said Llovet.

The Times Of India

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