THURSDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- The drug pazopanib
(Votrient) works as well as sunitinib (Sutent) for treating
advanced kidney cancer, but it has milder side effects, a new study
Although both drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration as first-line treatments for kidney cancer and both
boost survival, pazopanib had the edge in improving the quality of
life, the researchers reported.
"Kidney cancer has long been considered one of the most difficult-to-treat cancers, and is associated with a poor prognosis when it's metastasized [or spreading]," said lead researcher Dr. Robert Motzer, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Now there are drugs that attack a gene that is responsible for
turning kidney cells into cancer cells, he said. "There has been
tremendous progress in the treatment of this disease since 2005
with these targeted drugs," Motzer said. "The first of these drugs
was sunitinib, which is considered the standard in first-line
treatment for kidney cancer."
This new trial was a head-to-head comparison of sunitinib and
pazopanib. The researchers found both had a similar safety profile
and survival benefit, but there were milder side effects with
pazopanib, Motzer said. These included less fatigue and fewer sores
on the bottom of the feet, he noted.
"The data also suggest that patients on pazopanib have a better quality of life than patients on sunitinib," Motzer said. Both drugs cost about the same -- about $6,500 a month -- and are covered by Medicare and many private insurers.
"Both these drugs are good options for first-line treatment," Motzer said. "They allow for us to individualize treatment for patients. In my own practice, I have changed my preferred drug from sunitinib over to pazopanib, because most patients appear to have a better quality of life with pazopanib compared with sunitinib."
The trial was paid for by GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, the
maker of pazopanib.
Dr. Jessica Kreshover, a urologist at North Shore-LIJ's Arthur
Smith Institute for Urology in Lake Success, N.Y., said that "this
study shows that there is more than one option for first-line
therapy for renal [kidney] cancer."
According to Motzer, 65,000 people are diagnosed with kidney
cancer each year in the United States. "It's the sixth most common
cancer," he said. And because it is often diagnosed late, 30
percent to 50 percent of the patients develop metastasis, he added.
"It's one of the top 10 cancer killers," he noted.
The report was published in the Aug. 22 issue of the
New England Journal of Medicine.
"We now have a number of treatment options for kidney cancer," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "The question then becomes how do you make a choice."
Lichtenfeld noted that not only did the study show that the
drugs had similar survival benefits and that pazopanib was better
at improving patients' quality of life, but also that pazopanib
saved health care dollars by cutting the number of doctor
"We need to look at our treatments not only in terms of whether they delay the progression of the cancer or increase overall survival, but also what is the cost to the patient and the medical care system," Lichtenfeld said.
For the study, Motzer's team randomly assigned more than 1,100
patients with advanced kidney cancer to either sunitinib or
The investigators found both drugs fared as well in the length
of time they held the cancer at bay and extended life -- about nine
The real difference was seen in their side effects. Patients
taking pazopanib suffered less fatigue, fewer sores on the hands
and feet, and fewer bouts of a blood disease called
thrombocytopenia, which can cause bleeding, than patients taking
sunitinib, Motzer's group found.
Some patients taking pazopanib, however, had higher levels of an
enzyme called alanine aminotransferase -- a sign of potential liver
damage -- than those taking sunitinib, the researchers noted.
Most importantly, according to Motzer, patients taking pazopanib
rated their quality of life better than patients taking
For more on kidney cancer, visit the
American Cancer Society.
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