- More than 15,000 Britons are taking the pills daily to treat advanced kidney cancer
- Highly effective drug causes progressively worse side effects
- One study showed that treatment leave has no effect on life expectancy
A study has found that patients with incurable kidney cancer can safely take a ‘treatment holiday’ and leave their potent but debilitating drug for up to a year.
More than 15,000 Britons take sunitinib or pazopanib, which are highly effective daily pills that stop the spread of advanced kidney cancer, but also cause side effects that get worse over time, including liver damage, blistering and severe liver damage. Fatigue is involved.
Now a ten-year trial of 900 people has concluded that patients can come out of treatment between six and 12 months without affecting their life expectancy.
More than 15,000 Britons take sunitinib or pazopanib, highly effective daily pills that stop the spread of advanced kidney cancer, but which cause side effects that get worse over time
Researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds found that ‘treatment holidays’ allowed patients to regain their health and believed they could even slow the progression of cancer, photo presented by the model
Researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds found that ‘healing holidays’ allowed patients to regain their health and believed they could even slow the progression of cancer.
Professor Janet Brown, an oncologist and principal investigator on the trial, said: ‘Patients on the trial started getting really eager for these breaks in treatment. While some participants schedule their breaks so that they can go on vacation or enjoy Christmas with their loved ones, not all need to deal with the side effects of consuming these drugs.
‘Then, after some time, they would start treatment again and there would be no negative effects.’
Kidney cancer affects more than 13,000 Britons every year. If caught early it can be cured, usually by surgery to remove the tumor, and 50 percent of patients survive for more than ten years after diagnosis. But if it spreads to other parts of the body – known as advanced kidney cancer – it is considered virtually incurable and most patients will not survive more than three years. As a result, more than 4,500 people die from the disease each year in the UK.
One of the most common treatments to fight advanced kidney cancer is a group of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, which stop the growth of abnormal cells in the body. Sunitinib and pazopanib are two drugs that stop new blood vessels from developing in tumors. This restricts the blood supply and slows their growth.
However, for up to a third of patients, the side effects are so debilitating that they have to quit medications, leaving few treatment options.
The STAR trial, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, studied how long patients could stay off drugs without watching their cancer progress.
Patients had a CT scan every 12 weeks during the trial, until their tumor started to grow again, at which point they were back on the drugs.
According to Prof. Brown, most treatment holidays lasted at least six months, while many were as long as 12 months. And those who took a break were able to stay on the drugs for three to four months before they became ineffective against the tumor – an imperative for all advanced kidney cancer patients.
The findings would be welcomed by patients who know the effectiveness of these drugs well.
Patrick Goodwin, 63, a former Chesterfield miner, has been taking pazopanib since he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in January 2015. Despite two surgeries to remove the cancer, Patrick was told in 2016 that it had spread to his lungs and was now incurable.
He said: ‘I realized very quickly that I just had to move on with it and hope for the best.’
When Patrick began taking pazopanib, he was warned about the potential side effects, and said he was immediately affected.
‘From the beginning, I was constantly feeling tired and sick. My skin started peeling and would crumble really easily. I am a very active person, so I found it difficult to lose my energy like this.’
The father-of-three was enrolled in the STAR trial and initially alternated between six months on drug treatment and six months off.
He says the improvement in his quality of life during the break was ‘priceless’.
Routine scans have shown that Patrick’s cancer remains at a stable, manageable level – and his latest treatment break has lasted nine months.
Prof Brown said: ‘It is important that in order to keep people alive, we do not forget the importance of quality of life. There is no point in being a cancer survivor just to feel terrible and unwell all the time.’