In a great piece of news for women who are battling late- stage cervical cancer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a combination of the drug “hycamtin” (topotecan hydrochloride) and “cisplatin” to help treat this devastating disease. The drug treatment is intended for women who have been diagnosed as not benefiting from surgery or radiation therapy.
The new approval will mean renewed hope for women who are struggling with late-stage cervical cancer and other related forms of the disease. While not the most common form of cancer, this disease does result in 10,000 new cases and 3,700 related deaths in the United States each year, according to the FDA. It is most common in women who are over the age of 40.
The combination therapy is especially meant for women with specific categorizations of the illness. This includes women with stage IVB (incurable), recurrent, and persistent cancer of the cervix. The last one on the list — persistent cancer of the cervix — is especially notable, as this type of cancer can spread to other organs throughout the body, and often doesn’t bend to radiation or surgery.
In a clinical trial, 293 patients with the various forms of cervical cancers mentioned above were randomized to a combo of hycamtin plus cisplatin or cisplatin alone. Most of the participants had already underwent either surgery or radiation for their condition. Results of the study showed that the combo therapy significantly improved survival rates (by three months, at 9.4 months) versus the use of cisplatin alone (at 6.5 months).
While the new therapy did show some promise in prolonging the lives of patients with late-stage cervical cancer, it does come with certain side effects that need to be noted. Mainly, hycamtin has been linked to a significant risk of experiencing neutropenia (a condition that causes a drop in a person’s white blood cell count). This makes it more difficult for a patient to fight off other infections.
Also, the drug can also cause thrombocytopenia (which is a decrease in the blood platelets, leading to excessive bleeding and even anemia). Less threatening side effects of hycamtin noted in the study included nausea, vomiting, rash, and possible liver toxicity.
Along with this breakthrough, earlier in June, the FDA also approved the first vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer, known as “Gardasil,” which is produced by Merck & Co., Inc. This is just another encouraging development in the treatment and prevention of this deadly form of cancer.