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Iressa or Gefitinib Treatment for Lung Cancer


Iressa, or Gefitinib, is a drug that is now being used as a last defense against non-small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma. Iressa stops the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with the ability of cancer cells to activate the enzyme tyrosine kinase. By stopping growth and division, Iressa can shrink tumors to half their original size. Iressa does not cure cancer, but in some patients, it may extend life for a period of four to eighteen months.

Iressa treatment for lung cancer
Iressa takes a different approach to treating small cell lung cancer.

How does Iressa work?

Cancer cells, like healthy cells, depend on separate mechanisms operating within the body to live and thrive. One such mechanism that oncologists have placed particular focus on is the receiving of epidermal growth factors (EGFs) by the cell. Epidermal growth factors are peptide hormones that attach to the epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs) on cells. When this occurs, tyrosine kinase, an enzyme, is activated. Tyrosine kinase stimulates growth and division from within the cell.

Iressa prevents the activation of tyrosine kinase in cancer cells by blocking the epidermal growth factor receptors. Cancerous cells have unusually large numbers of epidermal growth factor receptors on their surface; blocking these receptors slows the growth and division of the cancer cells and, in effect, shrinks the tumor.

What is Iressa capable of?

Iressa can sustain the life of a cancer patient for a period of months. Patients who have had success with Iressa have survived a median of nine months after they were expected to die. The treatment is simple (a daily pill) and has few side effects. Iressa does not cure cancer, but it can restore some vitality to cancer patients for a brief (but valuable) time.

Who can Iressa help?

Iressa has been approved in the U.S. for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer patients who have cancer that is advanced (locally or metastatically), and that has been fought (unsuccessfully) with both platinum-based chemotherapy and docetaxel chemotherapy. This lung cancer treatment is used as a third line of defense for non-small cell lung cancer patients, as it has been shown to be ineffective when used in earlier stages.

The drug is used as a last alternative against cancer and, sadly, is only effective for one in ten patients.

What are the side effects and risks associated with Iressa?

The two most common side effects that patients who use Iressa experience are diarrhea and an acne-like rash. These side effects are usually manageable, but extra precautions must be taken. Other concerns for those considering Iressa are eye irritation and pregnancy risks.

Patients are advised to keep their physicians informed about any side effects they experience. Iressa may not be an appropriate treatment for some non-small cell lung cancer patients.

What are the risks of Iressa use?

A significant risk associated with Iressa is lung toxicity. When the treatment was first approved in Japan, reports were made that it caused lung disease in patients. These reports were further substantiated by research in the U.S. The FDA acknowledged that 1 percent of those taking Iressa in the U.S. could expect to develop lung disease. Of this 1 percent, one-third would die. The risk, which under most circumstances would have been unacceptable, was forgiven because of the "last-resort" standing of the treatment.

Is Iressa right for me?

Talking to your doctor will help you weigh the risks of Iressa with the possible gains. The treatment is a third-line approach to fighting non-small cell lung cancer, and is not effective for most patients. Nevertheless, the chance for a brief remission, however slim, may be one worth the gamble.

Locate a Lung Cancer Attorney in Your Area

If you or a loved one is undergoing treatment for lung cancer, you should speak with a lung cancer lawyer to find out if the party responsible for the lung cancer can be held accountable for the condition. To learn about your legal options, use our legal directory to contact a lung cancer lawyer in your state.

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