MONDAY, April 2 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer patients who receive
a combination of low-dose interleukin-2 and retinoic acid after
conventional therapy seem to live longer than those who don't get
These new study findings, slated for presentation this week at
the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research
in Chicago, were seen across individuals with many different forms
of advanced malignancies, including breast, lung and colon
Retinoic acid is derived from vitamin A. Interleukin-2, a
compound that fortifies the immune system, is approved at high
doses to treat "metastatic" melanoma and kidney cancer. Metastatic
means that a cancer has spread.
The study showed that "these biological compounds may work at
low doses. Bigger doses are not always better," said lead author
Dr. Francesco Recchia, director of the oncology department at
Civilian Hospital in Avezzano, Italy.
Recchia stumbled upon the possibility of using low-dose
interleukin-2 (IL-2) when he switched a patient with metastatic
melanoma who didn't tolerate high doses to a lower dose, and the
patient had an extended response to the therapy.
This study involved 500 patients who had already responded well
to chemotherapy. They had a variety of cancers, including ovarian,
lung, colon, stomach, kidney, melanoma, breast and pancreatic.
Participants gave themselves the interleukin-retinoic acid duo
five days a week for three weeks, then took a break of one week
followed by another three weeks -- for five years or until the
cancer came back.
Individuals who pursued the maintenance therapy did live longer,
the researchers found. About 43 percent of breast cancer patients
were alive after five years, versus an expected average survival of
about only one-quarter of patients.
Similarly, about 26 percent of lung cancer patients were alive
after five years versus about 4 percent expected, nearly 44 percent
of those with colorectal cancer were alive as compared with about
12 percent in an average population, and 23 percent of kidney
cancer patients were alive versus 11 percent expected.
After 15 years, about 33 percent of patients were alive without
having had a recurrence and 37 percent overall were alive, the
"This regimen works by increasing immune response," Recchia explained.
In this case, immune response consisted of an increase in the
number of natural killer cells, which are primed to attack tumors,
and a decrease in vascular endothelial growth factor, which would
normally prompt a tumor to spread.
There were no serious side effects, Recchia said, and the
therapy's cost is about $300 a week.
While IL-2 activates the immune system, retinoic acid is an
angiogenic agent, meaning it reduces blood supply to tumors,
explained Dr. Michael Atkins, deputy director of the Georgetown
Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C. He was not
involved with the study.
The results are "provocative," Atkins said, but one problem is
that all the patients had already benefited from chemotherapy so
it's unclear if they would have done well without the immune
therapy, he added.
A bigger trial of patients randomly assigned to receive
treatment is now starting in Siena, Italy, in breast cancer
patients, Recchia said.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
For more on interleukin-2 and other biological therapies, visit
U.S. National Cancer Institute.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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