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Pill halves risk of lung cancer death

Posted on the 20th June 2023

Lung Cancer Pill

A pill could halve the risk of death from a common type of lung cancer when taken daily post-tumour removal surgery.

The treatment, called osimertinib, targets a particular type of lung cancer in patients suffering from non-small cell cancer and who have a certain type of mutation.

The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene mutation is found in about a quarter of global lung cancer cases and is more common in women and those who are not heavy smokers.

In a clinical trial that enrolled 680 patients aged 30-86 at early stages of the disease across 26 countries, half of the participants took the treatment daily following surgery to remove their tumour, while the other half took a placebo.

Taking the tablet was shown to result in a 51% reduction in the risk of death, compared to the placebo group. 5 years on, 88% of those who took the treatment were still alive, compared to 78% of the placebo patients.

The results of the decade-long study were unveiled at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO)’s annual conference in Chicago.

Lead author Roy Herbst of Yale University, who presented the results at ASCO, called the results ‘impressive’, saying that the drug helps ‘prevent the cancer from spreading to the brain, to the liver, to the bones.’

‘Thirty years ago, there was nothing we could do for these patients. Now we have this potent drug.

‘Fifty per cent is a big deal in any disease, but certainly in a disease like lung cancer, which has typically been very resistant to therapies.’

Lung cancer is currently the cancer that causes the most deaths, with approximately 1.8 million fatalities worldwide per year.

Osimertinib is already authorized across the world for various indications, and was approved in the US for early stages in 2020 based on data that showed an improvement in patient disease-free survival, or the amount of time a patient lives without a cancer recurrence.

However, not all doctors have adopted the treatment. Herbst stressed the need to screen patients to find out whether they have the EGFR mutation – otherwise, they will not be eligible for the new treatment.

Angela Terry, the chair of the lung cancer charity EGFR Positive UK, described the findings as ‘hugely significant’ and ‘very exciting’.

‘Having access to a drug whose efficacy is proven and whose side-effects are tolerable means patients can be confident of and able to enjoy a good quality of life for longer.’

Related: Study reveals cancer’s ‘infinite’ ability to evolve

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