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Two recent studies presented at the 2006 meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation and Oncology (ASTRO) suggest that Erbitux® (cetuximab) can be safely added to combination chemotherapy regimens for rectal and esophageal cancer.

Cancer of the esophagus (the tube leading to the stomach) is relatively uncommon, but is one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated that more than 14,000 people in the U.S. would be diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2006 and that more than 13,000 would die of the disease.

The rectum is part of the digestive system and consists of the final six inches of the large intestine. Each year more than 40,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with rectal cancer.

Erbitux is a type of targeted therapy called a monoclonal antibody. Targeted therapies are anticancer drugs that are designed to treat cancer cells while minimizing damage to normal, healthy cells. Erbitux works by binding to a protein receptor located on many cancer cells called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).

Researchers from Germany presented results at ASTRO from a Phase I/II study of Erbitux, Xeloda® (capecitabine), Eloxatin® (oxaliplatin), and concomitant, or simultaneous, radiation therapy as preoperative treatment of patients with rectal cancer.[[1]]( "_ednref1") Study participants had cancer that had invaded nearby tissues and/or lymph nodes, with or without distant metastases. The treatment combination produced favorable results as eleven of 13 patients completed surgery without postoperative complications.

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As well, Researchers from the University of Maryland, Brown University, and Boston Medical Center reported the results of a Phase II study of Erbitux, Taxol® (paclitaxel), Paraplatin® (carboplatin), and radiation therapy for the treatment of patients with non-metastatic esophageal cancer.[[2]]( "_ednref2")

Thirty-one of 44 patients completed treatment. After treatment 65% of patients had no evidence of cancer on endoscopy. Twenty-four patients underwent surgery, and 45% had no evidence of cancer on the pathology report. The researchers suggested that Erbitux could be safely added to an intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy regimen for the treatment of esophageal cancer. A Phase III clinical trial is under consideration.

These studies suggest that Erbitux can be added to many chemotherapy and radiation therapy combinations without prohibitive toxicity.


[1] Roedel C, Arnold D, Hipp M, et al. Cetuximab in combination with capecitabine, oxaliplatin and concomitant radiotherapy (Cet-Capox-RT) as preoperative therapy for rectal cancer. International Journal of Radiation Oncology* Biology*Physics. 2006;66, issue 3, Supplement:S82-S83, abstract 147.

[2] Suntharalingam M, Dipretrillo T, Wanebo H, et al. A phase II trial evaluating the efficacy of weekly cetuximab, paclitaxel, carboplatin and daily RT in esophageal cancer. International Journal of Radiation Oncology* Biology*Physics. 2006;66, issue 3, Supplement:S22-S23, abstract 40.