Blue light? Drug that helps stomach cancer patients ‘should be on the market’

This article is over 2 months old New chemotherapeutic drug targeted to patients with stomach cancer is reported to be effective Reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the first…

Blue light? Drug that helps stomach cancer patients 'should be on the market'

This article is over 2 months old

New chemotherapeutic drug targeted to patients with stomach cancer is reported to be effective

Reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the first step towards authorization of a new chemotherapeutic drug for adults with stomach cancer have led experts to speculate on possible patient groups that could be most likely candidates.

The FDA has scheduled an advisory committee meeting for 4 April to determine whether the therapy, known as blue light, is safe and effective enough to be given to all adults with stomach cancer, rather than just those who need chemotherapy.

Blue light, part of a new class of drugs known as BTK inhibitors, is taken orally, like several other chemotherapeutic drugs currently on the market. Scientists found that using blue light spurred a critical mechanism in the human body’s natural blood-based blockade of certain cancer cells, according to initial reports published in January.

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Based on these early findings, regulators are said to be considering whether patients with advanced or metastatic stomach cancer have a higher risk of progression-free survival or overall survival compared with patients who would require treatment only with standard chemotherapy.

Tara Anzalone, a clinical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, spoke with the Guardian from Boston, where she was involved in clinical trials of blue light in gastric cancer.

“I think it would be great if blue light became available to more patients across more lines of therapy. It’s a small group of patients who would benefit from it, but they are the ones who are out there dying of cancer,” Anzalone said.

She emphasized that all hope is not lost for those who do not yet receive chemotherapy. Some patients may be candidates for other therapies but the tests needed to measure effectiveness are done months or even years after diagnosis, she said.

“I don’t want people to lose hope by this news; people don’t need to stop trying for chemo. We are in a place where we don’t really have great options for people who are unlucky enough to have significant tumours that don’t respond to standard therapy,” Anzalone said.

Because some patients receive chemotherapy too late, they may benefit from other therapies. And while blue light may show promise as a frontline therapy, neither the FDA nor health organisations currently recommend blue light for advanced or metastatic cancer, according to the Washington Post.

One woman already knows the relief gained from blue light.

Megan McKenzie, who lived in Portland, Oregon, took blue light in 2010 after she was diagnosed with stomach cancer when she was 34 years old. Her tumour was able to take the BTK inhibitor because it was part of the cancer’s immune system.

That her cancer was able to so effectively suppress her body’s blood-based cancer response was “such a momentous accomplishment”, said McKenzie, who has since passed away.

“I felt like, after the decision, it became about me. And what happened is, I got my breast cancer diagnosis in 2014, and it became about me again,” McKenzie told The Guardian.

During the late stages of her gastric cancer, McKenzie said she felt prepared to die. It was after her gastric cancer metastasized to her liver, and then her lungs, that McKenzie decided to participate in the clinical trials of blue light.

“Having a stomach cancer alone is a really, really scary and isolating experience. Getting cancer and knowing that there is no specific treatment, or that you might not be able to get treatment, isn’t just a medical crisis. It is a mental crisis. I absolutely felt like a character in a dark reality movie,” McKenzie said.

Although there is no cure for stomach cancer, patients may not endure the same psychological impacts, McKenzie said. Patients with other forms of cancer, even those who can receive chemo, might have to live for years with the side effects that accompany it.

She now helps create patient groups and train physicians on signs to look for to treat potentially cancerous colonoscopies.

McKenzie says she thinks blue light should be available to more patients, particularly in the hopes of improving outcomes.

“I think it’s important to move forward, to help these patients through whatever they have to go through,” McKenzie said.

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