As if fighting cancer isn’t hard enough, according to a HealthDay News report a recently published study from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, newer chemotherapy drugs have been linked to a slightly increased risk of death, a new analysis suggests.
The drugs, Nexavar (sorafenib), Sutent (sunitinib), and Votrient (pazopanib) posed a slightly increased risk of death based on their performance in clinical trials. These drugs have been analyzed in 10 recent trials including more than 4,700 patients.
Each of these drugs is a specialized treatment for a specific cancer and are included in a class known as angiogenesis inhibitors. Nexavar is used most often in the treatment of kidney and liver cancers. Votrient is prescribed in the treatment of kidney cancer and Sutent is designed to stunt the spread of kidney cancer and gastrointestinal tumors. These drugs work by attempting to cut off the blood flow to a tumor at a specific site.
These so-called “targeted” drugs are used to stop the growth or spread of cancer by blocking the vascular endothelial growth factor tyrosine kinase receptors in cancer cells, the researchers explained in a Dana-Farber news release.
In the trials examined by the researchers, these three drugs presented patients with a 1.5 percent risk of death as opposed to a seven-tenths percent risk among patients taking another drug treating cancer or a placebo drug. Death was generally caused by one or a combination of several serious side effects, such as, severe bleeding, heart attacks and heart failure, while taking the medication.
Some patients also experienced liver failure while participating in the trial, another side effect which may have led to the death of that patient.
But, researchers still believe there are clinical benefits to taking these cancer-specific drugs.
“There is no doubt for the average patient, these drugs have benefits and are [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]-approved for these indications,” study leader Dr. Toni Choueiri said in the news release. “While the absolute incidence of these fatal side effects is very small, the relative risks are higher and patients and practitioners need to be aware of it.”
The study concludes that patients and physicians should be made more aware of the risk of serious complications associated with their role in treating cancer, even if that risk is low, overall.
Previous studies on Nexavar have linked use of the drug to cardiovascular complications, marked by the onset of hypertension during the primary treatments with the chemotherapy drug. A study has also linked the use of Sutent to hypertension.
Previous studies have noted that taking a drug in this class can raise the risk of high blood pressure by almost 25 percent, as compared to patients taking another form of cancer drug. And, failing to recognize the association between these targeted chemotherapy drugs and high blood pressure can lead to more serious cardiovascular side effects.
The Food and Drug Administration is monitoring the results of more than two dozen targeted cancer drug treatments, according to a database it maintains at cancer.gov. A drawback of targeted cancer treatments is the likelihood cells will develop a resistance to the drugs, ultimately cancelling their effectiveness.