July 23, 2012 — The Journal of Clinical Oncology has published research linking new cancer drugs (Avastin, Taxotere, and Sutent) to a higher risk of severe side effects than older cancer treatments. These side effects may include nerve damage, heart problems, diarrhea, skin problems, high blood pressure, and more. The researchers caution that the benefits of certain treatments may outweigh the risk of side effects, and that each individual must carefully consider the risk-benefit of treatment with their physician.
The researchers collected and analyzed data from 38 reports that were submitted and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2000 – 2010. The drugs in the study include Avastin (bevacizumab), Taxotere (docetaxel), and Sutent (sunitinib), which are used in the treatment of colon, breast, and lung cancer. There were between 266 and 1,725 patients enrolled in each study.
The researchers found that patients taking one of the newer cancer drugs were 52% more likely to have a severe side effect (including nerve damage, heart problems, and more) compared to people taking older cancer drugs. They were also more likely to stop taking the newer drug due to a serious side effect. Furthermore, the patients who were taking the newer cancer drugs were 40% more likely to die from a side effect.
However, the risk of death was still not very high. Less than 1% of the cancer patients died from a side effect of their cancer treatment. It is also worth noting that the FDA reviewed clinical studies before approving the drug, and the agency determined that the benefits of each drug outweighed its potential benefits.
The researchers also cautioned that the benefits of a new cancer treatment may outweigh the risk of side effects. Some cancer treatments may have a lower risk of side effects, but most are toxic to the body. The risk of side effects must be weighed against the effectiveness of the drug, the individual’s health, and the life-threatening effect of cancer itself. This can make it very difficult to choose the “best” cancer treatment.
The researchers said that patients should be aware that serious side effects of newer chemotherapy and targeted cancer drugs can be very serious. Patients should immediately contact their doctor if they suffer an unusual side effect while taking a drug.
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