According to a study published in the Annals of Oncology, treatment of progressive glioblastoma multiforme with imatinib (Gleevec®) and hydroxyurea (Hydrea®) was well tolerated and resulted in tumor shrinkage in 20% of patients.
Approximately 20,000 people are diagnosed with primary brain cancer in the US each year. Primary brain cancer is cancer that originates in the brain (as opposed to cancer that has spread to the brain from elsewhere in the body). Glioblastoma multiforme is one of the most common and fatal types of primary brain cancer. It develops from the glial cells, which are the most abundant cells in the nervous system. Glial cells provide supportive functions that facilitate the work of neurons (cells that transmit impulses between the brain, spinal column, and nerves).
Standard treatment options for glioblastoma multiforme consist of surgical removal of the cancer when possible, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy. However, even with the most aggressive treatment available, many patients will survive less than one year after diagnosis. Due to this poor prognosis, researchers are attempting to develop more effective treatment strategies to improve survival of glioblastoma multiforme patients. Treatment strategies being explored include new combinations of chemotherapy drugs.
A factor that may play a role in the development of glioblastoma multiforme is platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) signaling. Clinical trials of Gleevec, a drug that inhibits PDGF receptors, suggest that Gleevac alone is often not effective against glioblastoma, but it’s possible that combining Gleevec with other drugs will improve effectiveness.
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In order to assess the effect of treatment with Gleevac and Hydrea in a small group of patients, researchers in Germany conducted a study in 30 patients with grade IV progressive glioblastoma multiforme. All patients had stopped responding, or had never responded, to standard chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Combination therapy with Gleevec and Hydrea resulted in complete or partial disappearance of the tumor in 20% of patients. Half of the patients survived for at least 19 weeks. Thirty-two percent of patients survived for six months without a worsening of their tumor, and 16% survived for two-years.
The researchers conclude that the combination of Gleevec and Hydrea offers promise for the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme. This treatment combination resulted in tumor shrinkage in some patients with glioblastoma multiforme and produced no serious toxic effects.
Patients with glioblastoma multiforme may wish to talk with their doctor about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating therapeutic approaches. Sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov).
Reference: Dresemann G. Imatinib and hydroxyurea in pretreated progressive glioblastoma multiforme: a patient series. Annals of Oncology. 2005;16:1702-1708.