Sunday, June 1, 2014

ASCO: Does Rituxan Cause Cancer? (No.)

OK, that post title is way too scary, and I don't usually go there. So I'll tell you right off that the answer to that question is, NO, Rituxan does not cause secondary cancers. An ASCO presentation says so.

***I added that "No" to the title a minute after I published it because I really don't want it to seem like I'm using a sensational headline just to attract readers or something. We all have enough to worry about, don't we?

The ASCO presentation is called "Meta-Analysis of the Risk of Secondary Neoplasm in Patients Treated for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma with Rituximab," and it looks at a bunch of previously-published studies to see if any of them report that Rituxan might cause cancer.

The authors looked especially at clinical trials that involved comparing chemo + Rituxan with straight chemo -- studies that involved half the patients getting Rituxan and the other half not getting it. This allowed them to directly compare the effects of Rituxan to something else.

Ultimately, they looked at 8 trials (half of them involving Follicular Lymphoma patients) with 3399 patients. The median follow up for the trials was 6 years, and they found no significant difference in secondary cancers in the two groups. Therefore, they can conclude that adding Rituxan to chemo doesn't increase the risk of developing a new cancer.

I had kind of assumed that this was the case, but it's nice that someone else did the checking for us.

It also highlights the need to remind ourselves that there's really no such thing as a side-effect-free treatment of any kind, whether it is Bendamustine or the Motrin I take after physical therapy for my shoulder (as my upset tummy lets me know). It's another factor to consider as we make treatment decisions with our doctors -- are the side effects worth the potential payoff?

It's also nice to know that, as treatments become more targeted, the kind of side effects we associate with traditional chemotherapy should decrease. But, as the researchers in this presentation note, long-term follow-ups are always necessary to make sure treatments behave they way we think they do.

Overall, this is a little study that doesn't have the sexy impact of those Ibrutinib studies, but it has a nice little message, too.

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